The county commissioners approved a proposed $118 million 1993 operating budget, but Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said she worries that eliminating the reserve fund could jeopardize the county's ability to cope with fiscal emergencies.
The commissioners' 2-1 vote wouldn't increase property tax or income tax rates, but would raise about $500,000 through new fees.
A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 14 at Westminster High to discuss the budget, which maintains the current tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed property value.
The budget, a 2.5 percent increase over this year's originally approved $115.2 million spendingplan, is scheduled to be adopted in late May. Changes could be made following the hearing.
"It won't make anyone happy, but it's closeto a workable solution," said Commissioner President Donald I. Dell,who voted for the proposal along with Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy. "Things could have been decided fairly easily if we raised taxes, but we couldn't justify that."
The proposal includes a $2 million budget supplement for the Board of Education to compensate for state cutsto student transportation. In order to grant the supplement and to restore salary decreases for the current year, the commissioners proposed depleting the county's entire $2.3 million reserve fund and creating a new "Rainy Day Fund" from various small reserve accounts.
Gouge voted against the proposal, saying she was concerned the proposedadjustments in the county's reserve accounts could jeopardize its ability to cope with fiscal emergencies. She said the education supplement and furlough restorations were based on some "questionable" adjustments, such as an increased estimate of income tax revenues, a new program for leasing vehicles and a new method for financing a retirement account.
"We're taking everything we own and banking on it to make it work," she said. "There are too many avenues we're having to depend on to make it work."
The commissioners decided to allow school officials to return $700,000 in furlough reductions to teachers. Since state cuts for fiscal 1992 were less than anticipated, the school board voted to restore the salary reductions. The commissioners chose not to exercise the line-item veto power they have over the education budget for this year only.
Under the proposal, they also will restore $230,000 in reduced salaries to county employees, who were ordered to take either two or four furlough days by June 30.
Dell expects criticism for the reversal, but emphasizes that salaries have not been increased.
"People are out of work, and here we are restoring furlough days. There's justification for people to holler at us,"said Dell, adding that furloughs were rescinded for county employees, as well as teachers, out of "fairness."
Included in the budget package are new or increased fees for on-site septic system evaluations, 911 emergency phone calls, bounced checks, development reviews formunicipalities and commercial building permits. Also, the commissioners have proposed reducing the discount for early payment of propertytaxes.
The money generated would pay for items previously omitted, including two child-abuse investigators, road planning studies, interns for the planning office and bulletproof vests for the Sheriff's Department.