From The Far Side Of A Boom-bust Cycle, A Year Is A Lifetime

Capitalbudget Looks A Bit Peaked After The Golden Summer Of 1990

October 02, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

What a difference a year can make in the aspirations of county government.

It was the summer of 1990, before the gulf war erupted, andto most people, the word "recession" was associated with the mid-1970s Arab oil crisis or the early Reagan years before the economic glory days of the mid-1980s.

County department directors still were thinking big, showing little restraint in making an all-time-high request of $91.7 million worth of public facility projects, such as roads, schools, libraries, senior centers and government offices, for fiscal 1992. The previous twocapital budgets, both exceeding $50 million, had been by far the largest in county history, so, hey, why not?

You know the rest. Revenues dropped below projections, projects were deferred, money was shuffled to fill gaps in other areas and the capital budget was trimmed beyond expectations, down to $30.5 million.

Heeding advice from thecounty commissioners and the budget director, requests have been sliced in half for fiscal 1993, to $46.4 million, leaving the County Planning and Zoning Commission and the budget office with about $15 million to cut to meet the unofficial goal of maintaining level spending for next year.

"We anticipate making available about the same level of local revenues in (fiscal 1993), and therefore we expect to see a . . . capital budget which addresses only the most critical issues facing the county," the commissioners wrote to all departments and agencies submitting requests.

The requests have been sent to the planning commission, which will meet with agency heads this week, reviewthe document, then return it to the budget office by mid-December with recommendations on which projects can wait and which shouldn't. The budget office then will send the plan to the commissioners and submit its own suggestions.

"We're projecting a long (economic) recovery," said budget analyst Gary Horst, who supervises the capital budget. "The wherewithal will not be there (for an aggressive capital program). They've been saying that at the state level, and it's going to ripple down."

Reductions made in this year's capital budget requests allowed the commissioners to provide "essentially" the same level of services to taxpayers despite a revenue shortfall, said Horst.

The amount of current revenue, such as property and income taxes, that the county has applied to its construction program has fallen steadily over the last four years, from about $11 million to $1.5 million.During the same time, the county has relied more heavily on borrowing money through bond sales, reasoning that projects that will benefitthe county well into the future should be paid for over a long period by both current and future residents.

Of the $46.4 million requested, $8 million would be in available

cash and $22 million would be borrowed, according to a budget office preliminary plan. The commissioners want those figures trimmed to fiscal 1992 levels: $1.5 million in cash and $14.5 through borrowing.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he expects the revenue situation to be "tighter thanthis year," but added that it would be difficult to keep spending oncapital projects at the $30 million level because of pressing needs.

Some of the projects initially requested for this year's budget that have been deferred, in part or full, beyond fiscal 1993 include the expansion of Carroll Community College, an upgrade of the radio communications system for emergency services and other agencies, a number of road resurfacings, extension of Kate Wagner Road as a southern route bypassing Westminster, and farmland acquisition.

Some of these deferrals and others are partly the result of cuts in state aid tolocal jurisdictions.

Major projects requested for next year include: $2.4 million for community college expansion; $1.3 million for recycling at Northern Landfill; $4.6 million for a Westminster Senior Center; $3.6 million for airport expansion; $650,000 for a Sykesville park; $1 million to extend Obrecht Road to Route 32 near Sykesville; $3.7 million to close one cell and open a new one at Hoods Mill Landfill for yard-waste composting; $1.3 million to establish a trash-transfer station at Hoods Mill; $4 million for renovations at Mechanicsville Elementary; and $1.7 million for farmland preservation.

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