Commissioners scold schools for pay raises McFalls denies $1.26 million plan was secret

May 31, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Two county commissioners chastised education administrators for "deception" before the board voted 2-1 to adopt a $119.4 million fiscal 1993 budget Thursday that maintains the property and income tax rates.

Before voting, Commissioners Julia W. Gouge and Elmer C. Lippy expressed disillusionment that educators had earmarked $1.26 million from the public schools budget for longevity and step pay increases for employees. Lippy and Donald I. Dell voted for the budget; Gouge dissented.

Board of Education President Cheryl A. McFalls said she can't fault Gouge, who had opposed the schools' supplemental budget requests. But she said she was "distressed" by Lippy's comments. She contended that education officials never concealed plans to provide the pay increases, but made those intentions known publicly.

County employees received no raises for the second straight year. Teachers have not received cost-of-living increases for two years.

The tax rate remains $2.35 per $100 of assessed property value. Because of higher assessments,the county will generate about $5.5 million more in property tax revenue for the year beginning July 1 than the $54 million it received this year. The constant yield -- the tax rate that would generate the same amount of revenue for fiscal 1993 as fiscal 1992 -- is $2.17.

Property taxes represent 50.4 percent of the county's revenue, compared with 40.4 percent three years ago.

In April, the commissioners granted the Board of Education's $2 million supplement request to compensate for state cuts in student bus transportation. They declined to give the schools $1.3 million for employee contract negotiations.

Gouge voted against the supplemental grant, saying it put county government in a precarious position by requiring depletion of reserve accounts and reliance on "questionable" income sources. Lippy and Dell voted for it.

Gouge wanted the Board of Education to find at least $1 million in its budget to maintain bus services. Gouge said education administrators told her the money could not be found, prompting her critical remarks.

"I feel it was an unnecessary step to take as a county government to jeopardize our bond rating and our building program for years to come," she said. "Since [the supplemental grant], $1 million was found by the Board of Education to give additional money to teachers. That has upset me, and as commissioner, I have to express that."

McFalls said school officials opposed transferring money from daily operating expenses to make up for state transportation cuts.

Lippy said educators "pleaded eloquently" for supplemental grants. But he charged that they did not disclose that $1.26 million was "squirreled away."

Lippy praised the cooperation between the commissioners and educators throughout the budget process, but then added, "In light of recent events, I will reluctantly look upon any future request for money with an extremely skeptical eye. Deception can never mix with cooperation."

But McFalls said school officials made clear that the $1.26 million for salary increases were savings carried over since January. Anticipating deeper state cuts, school officials froze all non-essential hiring and spending, said McFalls. As of April 30, about 18 budgeted positions were unfilled, she said.

"To say they've been deceived by the school board or the superintendent shows a total lack of understanding of what's been made public since January," she said.

Dell said he perceived no "deceit" and understood educators' intention to roll over savings and honor pledges for pay increases.

"I felt everything was open and up-front," he said.

Employees receive longevity increases after lengthy service; step increases are raises, based on a negotiated scale, with each additional year of experience.

The operating budget represents a 3.8 percent increase over this year's originally adopted $115 million spending plan, which later was reduced to about $110 million. The 1992-1993 capital budget is $23.6 million, a 23 percent reduction from this year's $30.5 million construction program.

The commissioners added to the budget a $26,655 naturalist for the Bear Branch Nature Center at Hashawha.

CARROLL OPERATING BUDGET

Function .. .. .. .. 1991-1992 .. .. ..1992-1993

Public schools .. .. .. 58.0 .. .. .. .. .. 61.1

General government .. ..$12.7 .. .. .. .. .$14.4

Public safety/correction..9.1 .. .. .. .. ..10.3

Public works .. .. .. .. .9.8 .. .. .. .. .. 9.9

Culture/recreation .. .. .4.8 .. .. .. .. .. 5.2

Health/human services .. .3.5 .. .. .. .. .. 3.5

Other education .. .. .. .2.3 .. .. .. .. .. 2.3

Natural resources .. .. ..1.2 .. .. .. .. .. 0.9

Economic development .. ..0.5 .. .. .. .. .. 0.4

Debt service .. .. .. .. .6.0 .. .. .. .. .. 7.6

Intergovernment transfer .1.2 .. .. .. .. .. 1.1

Transfer to capital .. .. 1.0 .. .. .. .. .. 0.0

Contingency reserves .. ..5.2 .. .. .. .. .. 1.2

Totals .. .. .. .. .. .$115.2 .. .. .. .. .$118.1

NOTE: All figures in millions.

SOURCE: Carroll County Department of Management and Budget

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