County budget approved

May 27, 1994|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

The Carroll County commissioners voted unanimously yesterday to approve a $144 million operating budget for the next fiscal year that includes more money for schools and raises for employees but no increase in the property tax rate.

The fiscal 1995 budget is 10.8 percent higher than the current year's $130 million budget. Increased revenues from property and income taxes are expected to cover most of the difference.

More than half of the budget -- or $73.4 million -- will be spent on schools. This year, the county spent about $69 million on schools.

School officials asked the county to increase its contribution to $74 million, but the commissioners said they couldn't afford that. Included in the county allocation was $1.25 million unspent by the school system in the current year.

More money is needed next year, in part because the school system continues to grow. School officials expect 868 new students next fall, 3.8 percent more than the current enrollment of 22,700.

School officials will have to cut almost $900,000 from their proposed operating budget, said Walter F. Brilhart, director of administrative services for the schools. Officials probably will reduce insurance expenses and salary ranges for new employees, he said.

The proposed general budget for the schools is about $130 million. The county government provides about 56 percent of that amount. Other money comes from state and federal sources, Mr. Brilhart said.

The school board is scheduled to adopt a fiscal 1995 budget on June 8. Fiscal 1995 begins July 1.

The county commissioners adopted their budget during a public meeting yesterday afternoon at the County Office Building.

"We should give ourselves a pat on the back," Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said. "I think we've done well with this budget."

Commissioner Donald I. Dell thanked Budget Director Steven D. Powell and his staff and school officials for their work on the document.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said county officials have found ways to balance the budget without angering residents.

"It wasn't luck. It was good management," she said.

The commissioners did not raise the property tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed valuation, but the county will collect more money at that rate because property values have risen. The county could raise the same amount of taxes next year that it did this year if the rate were $2.25, Mr. Powell said.

Half of the county's revenue -- $71.5 million -- comes from property taxes. The property tax base is expected to increase 7.6 percent in fiscal 1995 to $3.1 billion. That means the county is expected to collect about $5.9 million more than in the current year.

The tax base is growing more slowly than in recent years. From fiscal 1993 to fiscal 1994, the county's property tax base increased by 9.2 percent. Because of the recent recession, property tax assessments have risen less than in past years or remained stable.

Other county revenue sources are incomes taxes, which are expected to increase by about $3.6 million; license and permit fees; fines; and grants.

Also in the operating budget, the commissioners approved employee raises ranging from 8 percent for the lowest-paid employees to 3 percent for the highest-paid employees.

The raises will cost the county, which has about 500 full-time employees, almost $450,000.

Employees had asked for larger increases. Chapter 550 of the Maryland Classified Employees Association asked for a $1,500 pay increase for all employees, plus a 2.5 percent increase for those with four to eight years of service and a 5 percent increase for those with nine to 14 years of service. That plan would have cost the county about $1 million.

The commissioners also approved a $54.3 million capital budget that allocates $20.6 million for school projects. Included in that amount are $6 million for renovations at Taneytown Elementary and $5.6 million to begin work on Oklahoma Road Middle near Sykesville.

Parents pushed for the new middle school because Sykesville Middle is crowded. The new $12 million school is scheduled to open in the fall of 1996.

The capital budget also includes $10.6 million for a Piney Run Water Treatment Plant, $6.8 million for a new library at Carroll Community College and $3.9 million for road repairs.

The capital budget is 66 percent higher than the current year's budget of $32.7 million.

About 60 percent of the capital budget money in fiscal 1995 will be generated through general obligation bonds. In the current year, about 45 percent of the money for the capital budget came from bonds.

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