WESTMINSTER -- By all accounts, fiscal 1992 has been a difficult budget year for the county commissioners, their budget staff, school board members and administrators and public employees. But even trying budget years can bring pleasant surprises.
Take Thursday's public hearing on the county's proposed $119.34 million budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The commissioners, who generally take some heat at these sessions, found themselves sitting before an usually pleasant and grateful crowd of about 60 people in the Westminster High School auditorium.
"I have heard more 'thank yous' tonight than ever before," said an obviously pleased Commissioner Julia W. Gouge. "There hasn't been a lot of anger here tonight."
The budget, about a 3.5 percent increase over this year's originally approved budget, maintains the current tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed property value. About $500,000 would be raised through new fees.
Changes could be made in the proposed spending plan before the commissioners take final action, at 11 a.m. May 28 in Room 300A of the County Office Building. The public may submit comments over the next 10 days.
Slight revisions have been made to the proposed spending plan since it was given tentative approval by the commissioners last month. The proposed budget has been increased by $1.26 million -- money the school board reappropriated from the current fiscal year to fund increment and longevity raises for employees next year.
So it wasn't surprising that words of gratitude came from educators -- school board President Cheryl A. McFalls, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling, teachers' union President Cynthia Cummings and other school supporters.
"Thank you for funding the Board of Education request," said Cummings, representing the 1,400 members of the Carroll County Education Association.
She also urged the commissioners to "not continue to balance the budget" at the expense of county and school employees, who initially were slated to take furlough days to meet budget reductions. Pay for the furlough days has since been restored.
"I'm not here to ask for more money," said Shilling, who also expressed thanks to the commissioners for providing a $2 million supplement to compensate for state cuts to student transportation.
Amid the verbal notes of gratitude were requests from various groups -- including the Carroll County Beekeepers' Association, parents and environmentalists -- for the commissioners to find money to hire a full-time naturalist at the recently opened Bear Branch Nature Center.
Included in the budget package are new or increased fees for on-site septic system evaluations, 911 emergency phone calls, bounced checks, development reviews for municipalities and commercial building permits.
Also, the commissioners have proposed reducing the discount for early payment of property taxes.