Delegates Say Funds Drying Up

Legislators Dismiss Requests For Capital

September 22, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

The General Assembly has a message for any of you waiting for new roads, bigger schools or expanded services: Just forget it.

With this year's state budget deficit approaching $500 million and fiscal 1993's budget shortfall already pegged at $800 million, the amount of money coming back to the counties is expected to drop.

And while the county commissioners -- who met with the county's legislative delegation Thursday morning -- told of their own money problems, the state, it seems, isn't coming to the rescue.

"Times change, people change, and we have to be prudent from here on out," Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said.

Money -- or the lack of it-- dominated discussion at the nearly two-hour meeting at the CountyOffice Building.

The commissioners asked the delegation for the authority to borrow more money through bonds than ever before; asked for a somewhat more flexible lending program for the county's 16 volunteer fire companies and asked permission to collect a 3 percent hotelroom tax. They even asked for a piece of the Lotto pie.

The request to spend almost $45.6 million on capital projects -- with all but $8 million in borrowed money -- easily won approval of the delegation. The plea for authority to borrow up to a certain percentage of the assessable tax base to provide low-interest loans to fire companies also won some support.

The 3 percent hotel tax -- which could generate up to $75,000 a year for the county -- was more coolly received. And, as expected, the sharing of locally generated Lotto revenues waslaughed out of the room.

And then the commissioners asked about road money.

"We have a real problem, and we need your help," Executive Assistant Robert A. "Max" Bair said.

They'll be waiting for quite some time.

The road the commissioners most want money for is the almost 30-year-old proposed bypass to Route 30 near Hampstead. Funding for that project has been delayed for at least the next six -- and possibly 10 -- years.

"Every time we've wanted a road improvement, we've been stopped by the state," Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said. "It seems that, every time, they tell us that other counties need it more than we do."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer said last week that funding for the state's 23 counties and Baltimore will be slashedby at least 25 per cent this fall.

What that reduction could meanto the county is a cut of about $2.5 million out of its $115 millionoperating budget.

And while specific cuts in the county budget haven't been determined, likely targets include transportation servicesfor the poor and elderly, food programs and social services for women and children -- the same areas hit during this year's budget crunch.

Should cuts be deeper than expected, some cutbacks in school construction or teacher hiring -- averted so far this year -- are possible, county officials say.

One of the requests that the delegation met with limited enthusiasm was the creation of a Carroll rainy day fund.

"The '90s will not see the same economic growth as the '80s,"said Steven D. Powell, the county's budget director. "We should establish a reserve fund for economic stability."

Such a fund, to be built up over several years, would equal about 5 percent -- or $5 million -- of the county's operating budget.

"I know that we have a prudent board here," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, R-Carroll, Baltimore. "But it may encourage some unnecessary spending."

He and others in the delegation don't want the county to do what the state did this year: raid the reserve accounts to balance last year's budget.

"We sort of dropped an April bomb on local jurisdictions this year," said Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard. "There is validity to this approach."

Powell said the fund also would impress the New York bond-rating houses. If they're impressed and improve the county's solid AA bond rating, the cost of borrowing money could drop by thousands of dollars a year.

"I support this bond fund," said Delegate Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll. "It will enhance the bond ratings of thecounty."

All members of the delegation, except for Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, attended the meeting.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.