It's almost "deja vu all over again" for Carroll budget officials, as estimates of the state's growing shortfall bring the promise of another summer of spending cuts on the county level.
And although neither the state nor the county has made any decision on how to deal with what looks like a $240 million deficit for the budget year that began two weeks ago, the cut to Carroll could total as much as $5 million.
"That's certainly our worst-case scenario, but it is possible," said Steven D. Powell, the county's budget director. "They told us local governments will have to eat the lion's share of the state deficit. What we have to do now is wait until the state comes up with a plan."
If dire warnings of spending -- and service -- reductions sound all too familiar in the halls of 225 N. Center St., it's because this is the third straight fiscal year the state has begun with a deficit.
County officials from across the state were warned by General Assembly leaders last week of the growing amount of red ink in the face of lower-than-expected income tax revenues.
Carroll officials presided over an operating budget last year that started out at $115.2 million and ended up at $112.3 million. To get there, they slashed some social service programs -- including money for the county's shelter for homeless families -- and sharply reduced discounts offered to people who pay their tax bills early.
Last year also saw the furlough of county employees and a second year of frozen wage levels. Hiring has been kept to a minimum for the past two years and is expected to remain tight this budget year.
An illustration on just what may be in store for Carroll in the coming months played out Monday during a routine staff meeting with the commissioners.
A county grants administrator was seeking permission to apply for a $50,000 grant to help senior citizens find and maintain housing. The grant requires a 50 percent match by the county. Commissioner Donald I. Dell balked.
"How can we apply for this money if we know we might have to cut $5 million this summer?" he said. "We may not have enough money to come up with the match."
He ultimately approved of the grant application once he was assured the county was not locked into coming up with the matching funds.
A $5 million chop would mean a 4 percent reduction in this year's $119.4 million operating budget.
The county's $23.6 million capital budget -- which is spent on roads, buildings and other projects -- is off-limits to any more cuts, Mr. Dell indicated Monday.
"If we cut that budget any more, we're liable to end up with a lot of potholes," the commissioner said.
Commissioner Vice President Elmer C. Lippy, however, cautioned about a wholesale elimination of the capital budget as a source of spending cuts.