If a bright spot accompanied Thursday's unveiling of the gloomy draft budget, it's that the county commissioners have a year of battling financial blight under their belts as they prepare to confront the new fiscal year.
And after taking their first look at the county's preliminary spending plan for fiscal year 1993, the commissioners agreed that the past year in the budget trenches will serve them well.
"Oh, for the good old days when we dealt with the budget once a year," Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy said after studying the $116,420,765 preliminary budget for fiscal 1993, which begins July 1.
"Now we have to go over it and over it to get it right," he said. "We have our work cut out for us."
The draft budget -- a compilation of spending requests from most of the agencies that make up county government -- is a scant 1.2 percent increase over the $115,023,695 budget originally approved for the current fiscal year.
With state and local revenues in a seeming free fall, agencies were instructed to keep 1993 budget requests as close as possible to spending plans for the current year, said county Budget Director Steven D. Powell, who presented the draft to the commissioners.
Not all requests are in line with the current-year level, Powell said.
For example,the library system's request came in 9 percent above the 1992 amount, but only to reflect the new costs associated with the planned opening of the Mount Airy Senior Center and Library.
Also, the $3.01 million request for the Resident Trooper Program is up 31 percent from 1992, based on an assumption the county must pay the whole bill for the previously state-assisted program.
As a result, the total draftbudget exceeds early revenue projections by about $1 million, Powellsaid.
However, the discrepancy will be resolved starting Feb. 11,when commissioners begin individual reviews of each agency's requests.
"The whole budget is still very much in flux," Powell said. "But we need to give the commissioners a reference point from which to work."
Those reviews will be followed by budget work sessions in March, and the unveiling of a proposed spending plan and tax rate in early April, the commissioners said.
The process culminates on May 14 with a public hearing on the draft plan at Westminster High School.
After the past year, which proved disastrous for state money received by counties, there's no telling what lies between now and May (when the budget must be adopted), the commissioners said.
" 'Preliminary' is the key word," Commissioner Secretary Julia W. Gouge said of the draft.
"It will be changed often. I can't believe it will remain the same."
The draft illustrates the county's strategy to assume the gloomiest of revenue projections while forming the spending plan.
The commissioners held out hope that there might be some small but pleasant surprises ahead.
For one, Lippy said Carroll's state delegation has been lobbying hard for state money for the Resident Trooper Program, which would free up county money for use elsewhere.
Other increased requests were prompted by the rising cost of health insurance and liability-casualty insurance, Powell said.
The original 1992 budget has undergone several rounds of cuts totaling more than $3.5 million.
The county has been warned by state administrators that more reductions -- perhaps as much as $3.7 million -- could be in the pipe.
"The news from Annapolis doesn't fill me with terror like it used to, but maybe I'm just getting numbed to it," Lippy said. "We can manage, I'm confident of that.
"We have to."