WESTMINSTER -- Scrambling into the final week to make ends meet without raising the tax rate, the Carroll County commissioners approved a deeply cut budget yesterday that gives only the school system a significant increase in spending.
The $115 million operating budget is $2.6 million -- or about 2 percent -- less than this year's, while the capital budget has been hacked almost 40 percent to $30.5 million, said Steven D. Powell, the county's director of management and budget.
The property tax rate will remain at $2.35 per $100 of assessed value under the new budget, which takes effect July 1.
The Board of Education received an increase of about 4.5 percent, which includes money for about 25 new teachers and staff members to cope with the still-growing school population and to open new elementary schools built in Eldersburg and Hampstead, Mr. Powell said.
Teachers, like other county employees, received no cost-of-living increase in the new budget.
In contrast to budget hearings of two and three years ago, when angry parents turned out in force to demand a tax increase for the schools, the May 16 public hearing on this year's plan was a quiet affair, with relatively few speaking for the schools.
But several eloquent speakers at the hearing did have an impact. They persuaded the commissioners to move $7,500 within the recreation and parks budget to restore money cut from senior citizens programs and the therapeutic recreation council, which provides wheelchair basketball and other programs for the physically impaired.
County department heads had been somewhat prepared for a rough budget year by a projected revenue shortage of $2.2 million last fall, Mr. Powell said. But by March, the shortage had grown to almost $6.4 million.
And on May 15, the day before the public hearing, the county learned that its share of the state income tax would be half the expected amount -- creating another gap, this time amounting to $1.9 million.
So on Tuesday, just two days before the scheduled adoption of the budget, the staff scrambled to present the commissioners with several more changes to cover the newest loss of revenue.
Mr. Powell presented these ideas under a black title page that proclaimed in block letters: "NADA. ZILCH. NOTHING."
"A little humor there," he said, "very little."
School Superintendent R. Edward Shilling agreed to defer spending some money in his budget, which helped to fill the $1.9 million gap.