Gov. William Donald Schaefer's decision to cut $150 million in local aid leaves Carroll's commissioners with the extremely unpleasant job of deciding which of the county's programs to pare.
While they expect about $5 million in cuts, the precise form of those reductions is still unclear. They do, however, accept these cuts as being real and not another of the governor's bluffs designed to rattle legislators.
Anticipating this latest round of budget reductions, county budget officers have already compiled a detailed analysis of county spending over the past few years. They determined that the successive rounds of budget reductions have left the general county government rather trim. The county work force is down nearly 8 percent from last year. There have been no pay raises. The officials also came to the realization that after two successive years of cuts, all the easy ones have been made.
Meanwhile, over the years, expenditures in other areas of government -- the board of education, circuit court, state's attorney and sheriff's offices -- have increased. There was good reason. There are more kids in schools, more defendants charged with crimes, more prisoners in the detention center. Nevertheless, those agencies need to review their budgets carefully. The commissioners are going to -- and should -- hack away at any questionable spending in those departments.
Like it or not, the commissioners may also have to start cutting grants to external organizations such as the community college, library, volunteer firefighters association and other worthy recipients.
At the moment, the commissioners are not making any decisions. They need more information. They need to know the type of cuts the state will make.
Will the cuts be targeted at specific programs or will they be a percentage of general aid to local governments? How hard will the cuts hit state agencies operating in the county or private non-profits agencies providing services for the county? Will decisions on the specifics be made at the state level or get bucked down to the counties? Until those questions are answered, the commissioners will have to bide their time. By the end of this week, they expect to have a much better idea of where the budget ax will fall in Carroll.