County Budget Shortfall Leaves Analysts Scrambling

Deficit Has Ballooned To Over $1 Million

May 19, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER — The Carroll Commissioners learned the county's projected 1992 shortfall had ballooned from $650,000 to more than $1 million Wednesday, the day before the annual budget hearing that typically draws a flood of requests for money.

Those who came to plead their cases for moremoney Thursday night were among the hardest to turn down -- the disabled, a board director and client of a retarded citizens' program, seniors, a youth counselor and firefighters. Unlike past years, no one asked for more money for schools.

But all will be refused, barring an unforeseen upturn in the county's revenue picture or an unexpected change of heart, the commissioners agreed after the hearing that attracted about 75 residents to Westminster High.

The commissioners are proposing to maintain the $2.35-cent property tax rate, which costs the owner of the average $134,000 home $1,260 annually.

Requests included a one-time $75,000 allocation to the Association of Retarded Citizens/Carroll County so it could reduce its deficit and maintain services; restoration of 50 percent cuts in grants to recreation councils for seniors and the disabled; returning $9,000 to the Carroll Arts Council's $29,000 request; and an additional 5 percent contribution to the County Volunteer Fireman's Association.

"At this moment, I don't see any likelihood (of financing the requests) at all unless there are drastic changes," said Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.

Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy Jr. were blunt: "The money's just not there."

The commissioners discovered several weeks ago that interest earnings from the county's $40 million investment portfolio would be $650,000 short of projections because of falling interest rates.

Banking on the $650,000 to finance solid waste programs, the commissioners decided against raising the $15-per-ton landfill dumping fee. To compensate forthe $650,000 loss, the commissioners must cut other areas of the proposed $115.3 million operating budget, a 2 percent reduction from this year's $117.6 spending plan.

Compounding the situation, officials learned Wednesday that May's income tax receipts would be $131,000 less than projected and state highway and motor vehicle revenues $290,000 less.

More bad news could come: State officials have determined that the 1992 budget passed by the legislature is showing a $150 million deficit, which could prompt cuts to local jurisdictions.

That means the county might have to amend the budget after it is adopted May 30, depending on state actions. Over the next 10 days, they will work on slicing about $1 million. One target could be the $35.6 million capital budget, especially road projects.

Many of the about 30 residents who testified made compelling and heartfelt arguments forincreasing budgets for their agencies.

Jennie Breighner of Westminster, accompanied by her daughter Ann, pleaded with officials to provide more financial support for the ARC/CC, where Ann is a client. Since state financing has declined, Ann could lose her spot in the center's job workshop.

"I don't know what Ann would do if she doesn't participate in the workshop," said Jennie.

Several residents, including Michael Hurley of Eldersburg and his daughter, Nicole, urged the commissioners to restore the $6,000 cut from the Therapeutic Recreational Council's $12,000 request. The council provides year-round recreational programs to countians with disabilities.

"I like to play," said Nicole, 13, a special education student at Mount Airy MiddleSchool. "I like ballet, gym, baseball and camp."

Financing the request fully so the council can maintain programs "is the right thing to do," said her father. "It would be tragic to let these kids just be idle."

Several seniors asked that $1,500 be restored to a $3,000program request from the Seniors In Action Recreation Council.

The director of Carroll's Youth Services Bureau, which counsels youthswith substance abuse or family problems, said his agency will be unable to serve three schools and 40 families if the county doesn't compensate for a 22 percent cut in state financing.

The director of the Carroll Transit System cautioned that any budget cut would hamper services.

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