Newest County Book Contains Gloomy Plot

Budget Message Spins Tale Ofeconomic Woe

April 17, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

While few actually will pick it up and read it, the more than 200-page book due a week from today will touch the lives of about everyone in Carroll.

More than five months in the making, the County Commissioners' annual budget message contains one of the gloomiest economicstories ever told in Carroll, replete with service reductions, budget cuts and salary freezes.

The theme -- the county's proposed $115.2 million operating budget -- is not an uplifting one for the commissioners and the county budget office.

Just yesterday, one effect of that budget was played out when a request from Assistant Planning Director K. Marlene Conaway to attend a mining conference in Nevada was rejected by the commissioners.

"Doesn't Marlene know we have a budget crunch?" asked Commissioner President Donald I. Dell.

Conaway's request is not the only one denied by the commissioners. In fact, her department was hit for $27,000 more in cuts last week when the commissioners slashed another $48,000 from the operating budget.

As a result of the fiscal crisis, the spending plan for day-to-day operations of county government for the year beginning July 1 is almost 2 percent below this year's $117.5 million.

And spending on roads, bridges, new schools and libraries is expected to be down nearly 30 percent, to $35.6 million.

Ever since dropping revenues last fall resulted in a $5 million shortfall in the 1991 budget, the commissioners have been chopping programs, putting others on hold and trying to maintain the county's property tax rate at $2.35 per $100 of assessed value.

To the owner of the average $134,000 home, the county's tax bite will amount to about $1,260 for next year.

In the budget they will present next week, the commissioners maintained the Baltimore area's lowest tax rate. A hiring freeze, travel ban, overtime reduction and construction cutback have allowed the commissioners to avoid county employee layoffs and drastic elimination of social services.

In the annual budget message -- written by Management and Budget Director Steven D. Powell and discussed yesterday -- residents of Carroll will be told of the difficulty of assembling the budget for fiscal 1992.

The actual wording of the message was not released.

But, for agency heads hoping for last-minute rescue of their decimated budgets, the message and the rest of the document will offer little to cheer about.

Budgets hit hardest for 1992 include Carroll Community College, whose $1.9 million contribution from the county is unchanged from this year, despite rising enrollment; Public Works, which will be hit with a 2.6 percent drop in operating money and a 33.5 percent reduction in capital funds; and the tourism bureau, which will see a 21 percent reduction infunding for 1992.

"We'll make it through," Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy Jr said.

Arriving at $115.2 million in recommended spending from more than $140 million in budget requests was a difficult process.

Since February, agency directors have met with the commissioners and Powell to plead their cases. For the most part, any increase in services above this year's level was denied, as were most capital expenditures. More than $93.4 million was requested for capital expenditures, a figure more than 2 1/2 times larger than the $35.6 million actually approved.

But, as Powell told a breakfast meeting of business leaders early in the budget process, "We ain't gotmuch money."

Carroll has it easier than some other Baltimore metropolitan counties. In Howard earlier this week, more than 40 people were fired as County Executive Charles I. Ecker continues to grapple with a $26 million shortfall in next year's budget. In Baltimore County, employees will not receive pay increases next year.

And, the state just passed a budget that took into account a nearly $500 millionshortfall.

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