The county's first-ever effort to invite the public to a give-and-take session on the proposed budget Thursday was either a miserable flop or a smashing success, depending on your perspective.
If you judge by attendance, it was a bomb. The three who attended -- two duringthe afternoon and one at night -- were far outnumbered at each session by the 10 or so budget analysts, public information specialists and County Commissioners who came prepared to answer questions on the proposed fiscal 1992 operating and capital budgets.
If you judge by evaluating productivity, it also was a dud.
Four budget analysts sat side-by-side, each armed with reams of documents, files, computer printouts and budget fact sheets -- everything they needed at their fingertips to answer the most detailed question about the allocation or non-allocation of money. They never got to use any of it.
County officials spent much of the two hours allocated for each session talking and joking among themselves, waiting for anystragglers. The commissioners left early to do other work.
But the lack of response could be interpreted as a positive message -- thatresidents are satisfied the county budget office and the commissioners crafted a budget that includes no layoffs or tax increases amid a recession. Either that, or they feel resigned to a frugal year, agreed county officials.
"It shows there's not a lot of dissent with the budget," said Steven D. Powell, Department of Management and Budget director.
"It's also a sign of the economic times. People know they can't come in asking for more money for everything. They also know we can't raise taxes."
The county's proposed $115.3 million operating budget is a 2 percent reduction compared to the current year's $117.6 million spending plan. The $35.6 million capital budget for construction projects and land acquisition is a 30 percent decrease from this year's $50.5 million budget.
The public hearing on the budget will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Westminster High School. The information meetings were scheduled so commissioners could answerquestions, which they don't do at the hearing. The commissioners arescheduled to vote on the plan on May 30.
"Everybody's been aware for many weeks that we don't have any money," said Commissioner ElmerC. Lippy Jr. "That's going to cut down on crowds. There's no use going in and championing a cause if you know you're going to hear that."
That didn't stop Barbara Charnock, chairwoman of Carroll Community College's advisory board, from urging the commissioners to supportfully the college's operating budget request. The college requested$2.4 million; the commissioners have allocated $1.9 million, the same as this year.
"We submitted an operating budget we felt was fairfor the needs and challenges of a new college," said Charnock. "We need to keep in mind the funds needed for a burgeoning population."
The college's full-time student population is projected to grow from 1,494 to 1,605 next year. This year,the county based its allocationto the college on a projection of 1,318 full-time students.
Charnock told the commissioners that without an increase in the budget, some daytime courses would be cut, fewer full-time faculty would be hired, counseling and other student support services would be reduced and development of the library would lag.
She told the commissionersthat the college is not just a next step for 18-year-olds after highschool, but a valuable resource to train Carroll residents for jobs with employers in the community.
"It's like preaching to the choir," responded Commissioner President Donald I. Dell, referring to the board's support of the college. "But if we give you extra money, we're at the point where we'll have to start laying people off. We're broke."
Donald Taylor, former chairman of the County Republican Central Committee, suggested that the county should look to its public schools and community college budgets for cuts to balance a likely $650,000 shortfall. He said the Board of Education's spending practices should be scrutinized to discover potential savings.
The potential shortfall has been caused by a drop in interest rates, decreasing investment earnings.