Lower Interest Rates Squeezes Budget Even Tighter

BALANCING ACT -- Carroll County government -- juggles expenses, revenues Continuing coverage of the county government's budgetary process

Fed Move Could Reduce County Investment Income By $650,000

May 08, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

With the Federal Reserve Board's lowering of interest rates last week, almost $650,000 in revenue the county is banking on to retain Carroll's $15-a-ton landfill fee could be in jeopardy.

Should the nation's eased credit markets cause a dip in the amount of money Carroll earns on its $40 million investment portfolio, the County Commissioners could be forced to slash spending on social or other services.

"We are looking for places to cut if we need to," said Steven D. Powell, the county's management and budget director.

Since the commissioners agreed last month to keep the so-called tipping fee at $15a ton, they have known that they would have to subsidize solid-wastedisposal out of the county's $115.3 million operating budget.

Butthe proposed operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 has little room for error. Taking $650,000 from the proposed 1992 operating budget and dedicating it to solid waste efforts left even less room for unexpected dips in tax revenue.

In fact, Powell warned the commissioners before the Federal Reserve Board dropped interest rates that the money could disappear as the amount of interest income onthe county's investments drops.

And, because a last-minute rise in the tipping fee is highly unlikely, the commissioners would have tofind the money elsewhere in the budget. In other words, they would have to make more cuts in a spending plan already 2 percent lower thanthis year's.

"We're looking at every revenue source, at every expenditure, at everything," Powell said. "We've been doing a lot of work, and we're trying to come up with additional lists of places we canlook at."

While lower interest rates threaten a portion of the more than $4 million of investment income the county earns yearly, Powell said other sources of revenue -- namely income taxes -- are showing strong gains.

He said that while February's income tax receipts were only 3.25 percent above a year earlier, instead of a predicted 6percent increase, the receipts expected this month and in June couldcome in at 4.5 percent above a year ago. That, Powell said, could mean an extra $400,000 in revenue and could mitigate the lost interest.

The last-minute fluctuations in the proposed fiscal 1992 budget are far from a surprise, as the commissioners have been wrangling with one of the toughest county budgets in recent memory.

An across-the-board salary and hiring freeze, as well as cuts in travel and training, has been in effect since last November. Some social services, public school spending and internal studies also have been shelved.

County residents will get their first crack at commenting on the spending plan tomorrow afternoon and evening, as the commissioners conduct public information meetings. The public hearing, set for a week from tomorrow, is the last formal step before adoption of the budget.

No increase in the $2.35 tax rate -- the metropolitan area's lowest-- has been proposed, although keeping the rate steady will result in a 9.6 percent increase in property taxes paid by county property owners.

To keep property tax revenue equal to this year, the commissioners would have to drop the property tax rate to $2.19 per $100 of assessed valuation. They are not considering doing so.

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