School construction projects dominate the $55.8 million 1996 capital budget proposed yesterday by the Carroll County Planning Commission, and commissioners wonder whether county spending can keep pace with burgeoning school enrollment.
The proposal includes $7.4 million to build an elementary school in Union Bridge and $750,000 for engineering and design work for elementary schools in Westminster, Manchester and Southeast Carroll.
The budget relies on contributions from the state Department of Education to help build the schools. If the state doesn't contribute, the county will be in trouble, Planning Director Edmund R. "Ned" Cueman said.
Commission Chairman Dennis P. Bowman said members are concerned about how the county will pay for schools.
"Either we have to stop growth or raise money somehow. We see some serious problems in the next two to three years," he said.
The Maryland Office of Planning has projected that enrollment in Carroll schools will increase by about 3,400 students by the year 2000.
Of $22.7 million recommended for school projects in Carroll in the fiscal year that begins July 1, $10.8 million is needed from the state.
The Planning Commission presented its recommended budget to the county commissioners yesterday. The commissioners will make the decisions about which projects are funded. The three-member county Board of Commissioners probably will have to make cuts to the proposed budget, which covers 334 projects and allocates $2.7 million more than the county budget director said Carroll can afford next year.
County departments and agencies had asked for $72 million in capital projects and the five-member Planning Commission has worked since October to pare the spending plan.
The proposed budget is $1.5 million higher than this year's capital budget of $54.3 million.
Planning Commission members said local revenues will have to increase in the next five years for the county to pay for adequate facilities and essential projects.
Two of the three county commissioners acknowledged two weeks ago that Carroll may have to raise property taxes or piggyback taxes to afford the capital projects.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday that the county is looking at fees and other revenue sources.
"I cannot see raising real estate taxes. It has to come from somewhere else," he said.
The county has not raised its $2.35 property tax rate since 1990.
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said he ran for the office because of his commitment to find a way to manage growth and pay for adequate facilities.
He has said he wants to double the county's $2,700 impact fee, which is charged on each new residential unit. He also said he would consider a property tax increase.
Commissioner Richard T. Yates said the county has to address the growth issue and then figure out how to pay for projects.
Hampstead Mayor C. Clinton Becker said his town is doing its part to limit growth, but schools already are crowded. He urged the commissioners to put schools at the top of the priority list. "Education of our children must be paramount. We cannot afford to put bond ratings or impact fee raises above the future of our children," he said.
County officials have been reluctant to borrow more money for school projects because a higher debt load could jeopardize the county's rating with the New York bond houses.
The Planning Commission has recommended that the $55.8 million for the capital budget come from the following sources: $8.2 million in cash, $17 million in general obligation bonds, $9.3 in revenue bonds, $230,000 from enterprise funds and $21 million from the state and other outside sources.
In other areas, the Planning Commission recommended:
* Scaling back a project to build a larger gym at Elmer Wolfe Elementary so that older children and adults could use the facility. Members proposed spending $350,000 on the project instead of $675,000.
* Deferring a $280,500 expansion at the Taneytown Senior Center until fiscal 1997.
* Cutting $1.6 million for a West Carroll public library branch until a site can be found.
* Cutting $980,800 for an addition to the Carroll County Humane Society, which the commission said could be built with private money.
* Cutting $1.2 million for an expansion to the Carroll County Detention Center.