Carroll government costs among Md.'s highest County ranks fourth in administrative costs

June 14, 1992|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff Writer

Carroll government spent more per resident on administration than all but three other Maryland jurisdictions in fiscal 1991, according to a recently released financial report.

The county spent $172 per resident on "general government" -- such offices as planning, personnel, finance, executive and judicial -- exceeding the state average of $133 and trailing only Calvert and Howard counties and Baltimore, according to "Local Government Finances In Maryland."

"I would imagine high salaries at the top levels have something to do with it, and probably overall staffing," said County Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy.

The report, compiled by the state Department of Fiscal Services, reveals that Carroll was thrifty on public works, public safety, social services and urban development and housing, ranking for each in the bottom quarter in spending per resident among Maryland's 24 jurisdictions.

The county ranked in the top four statewide in spending per resident for libraries, natural resources, job training and development, and aid to municipalities. Only Howard County spent more per resident on education than Carroll in the Baltimore region.

The county's comparatively high level of spending on natural resources can be attributed to its agricultural preservation program, the most successful in the state, and its water quality protection program, said Budget Director Steven D. Powell.

"We had a stronger focus on water quality protection earlier than many jurisdictions," he said.

The report, which presents financial information submitted by counties and municipalities, covers the budget year from July 1, 1990, to June 30, 1991. The current Board of County Commissioners took office midway through fiscal 1991 and did not plan the budget for that year.

Carroll ranked 14th overall in spending per resident. Only Harford County spent less per resident in the Baltimore region.

It also ranked 14th overall in revenue generated per resident, and had the lowest local tax burden per resident in the Baltimore region. Carroll ranked eighth in income tax revenues collected per resident, and 15th in property tax revenues collected.

Lippy said the high figure for spending on "general government" also might be attributed to an "inefficient organization" of government. The commissioners have since restructured government and implemented a hiring freeze.

Powell said the figure might be inflated because it includes some allocations that other counties might list under other categories, such as the State's Attorney's Office or the Youth Services Bureau.

Only Calvert County spent a higher percentage of its total budget on "general government" than Carroll, 13.1 percent to 10.2 percent. By contrast, Maryland's three largest counties -- Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore -- spent 5 percent, 5.7 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.

The county's relatively low level of spending on police and fire protection can be traced to its volunteer fire service and its participation in the state's Resident Trooper Program, for which the state had paid 25 percent.

Only Garrett County spent less per resident than Carroll for corrections, which Lippy attributed largely to a low crime rate.

But expenses for the County Detention Center and law enforcement will increase in the coming years, said Powell. The jail is being expanded, and the county will pay an additional $700,000 for the resident troopers in the next fiscal year because the state cut its contribution for the program.

Only Howard County spent less per resident statewide than Carroll on social services. Lippy said that might be attributed to a "general antipathy toward what we call welfare spending. It's probably more deeply felt in this county than other counties, and that's reflected in government, too."

Powell emphasized that the current board has demonstrated increased support for social services, providing emergency assistance for the homeless and compensating for state cuts in counseling for troubled youths.

Carroll, along with Dorchester, Talbot and Worcester counties, spent nothing on housing and urban development. Lippy said county government is increasing efforts to assist those in dire need of housing, but does not have plans to provide financial aid or incentives for affordable housing projects or elderly housing.

The county has deferred construction projects for the past several years to keep a balanced budget, said Powell.

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