Budget Season Promises To Be A Dreary Marathon

November 17, 1991|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff writer

To most, the onset of Thanksgiving conjures up thoughts of steaming turkey, chilly evenings by the fire and the bustle of the holiday season.

But to the people responsible for putting together the county's annual spending plan, the holiday means interest rates, historicalspending patterns and state-funding formulas.

With further state budget cuts expected in January, the commissioners and directors of county agencies aren't even finished with a final budget for the current fiscal year. Yet spending plans for July through next June will be formed beginning this week.

Arriving at those plans for fiscal 1993 is expected to be harder than ever.

"What seems to be happening is that everything is very confusing," said Steven Pyne, an analyst with the Department of Management and Budget, which monitors and ultimately prepares the county's annual spending plan.

It's confusing, he and others say, because of the four roundsof budget cuts in the last year and because of the commissioners' reorganization of county government last spring.

"Some directors areprobably going to wonder how to compare their requests to what spending was this year," Pyne said.

The budget office will send preliminary budget preparation packets tomorrow or Tuesday to all agency directors. The directors, who must make detailed budget requests, have about six weeks to prepare their spending plans.

The requests -- and the resulting county spending plan for the 1993 budget year -- are expected to be below this year's levels.

"Our funding levels are already $6 million below where they were at this time last year," county Budget Director Steven D. Powell said during a budget briefing late last month. "And we're going to be even more below that."

Fiscal1992 marked the first time in recent history that Carroll's budget was equal to or less than the previous year's.

For the budget year that began July 1, the county government expects to spend under $115 million, the same amount budgeted for the previous year. Powell and the commissioners expect spending to stay about the same -- or decrease somewhat -- for the coming budget year.

For some department heads, this budget season looms as a long one.

"We're going to face all kinds of challenges," said Public Works Director John T. Sterling. "It feels like I haven't stopped doing budgets since last November. It's becoming a routine thing."

So far this year, Sterling has chopped more than $500,000 from his $10 million budget. That money goes for maintaining and improving county roads, parks and other structures.

"I'd be very surprised if we get a budget any higher than we have now," he said.

The stalled economy plays havoc with government finances, but it has given the county one boost.

Carroll's commissioners sold nearly $27 million in bonds Wednesday, one of the largest single issues ever in the county. Because interest rates are hoveringat their lowest levels in 18 years, the county was able to secure a rate of 6.099 percent.

That figure, county Comptroller Eugene Curfman said, is lower than the county expected. The bonds were bought bya syndicate of investors led by Baltimore's Ferris, Baker and Watts.

"We're really happy with the interest rate," Curfman said.

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