Growth, school spending blamed for 1996 deficit

March 31, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Sun Staff Writer

Carroll County would not have a budget deficit and a tax increase would not be looming if officials cut school spending and curtailed residential growth, some citizens argued at a meeting last night sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Carroll County.

"Has anybody really thought of what is causing this problem?" asked Kathleen Glass of Westminster. "You have to control your growth. This is what's causing all the problems. You've got to stop growth."

One man in the audience responded with "Amen." Others applauded.

About 90 residents attended the session on the county budget deficit at Carroll Community College. County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Richard T. Yates attended the meeting, the first in a series of five. Commissioner Donald I. Dell was at a meeting in Taneytown.

County Budget Director Steven D. Powell gave a 40-minute presentation on Carroll's financial situation and explained why the commissioners have proposed raising the piggyback income tax.

The county will have a $4.2 million deficit in fiscal 1996, which begins July 1, because the rate of growth is leveling off and expenditures continue to grow. The commissioners have proposed raising the piggyback tax to 60 percent from 50 percent. The increase would raise about $4 million in fiscal 1996, and would cost the average taxpayer about $150 per year.

The three commissioners, all Republicans, are not "flaming liberals," Mr. Brown said. They have looked at the budget requests and revenues and concluded, "We can't get there from here," he said.

The county must raise the piggyback tax to build schools, he said. Carroll cannot borrow all of the money needed for the schools because it would lose its favorable bond rating, he said.

The piggyback tax is a county income tax levied in addition to the state income tax. The state, which collects the money and returns it to local jurisdictions, allows counties to charge 60 percent of its 5 percent rate. Mr. Brown and Mr. Dell support a piggyback tax increase. Mr. Yates is opposed.

The commissioners have proposed building eight schools in the next six years. The school population is expected to grow by about 4,100 students to 28,000 students by the year 2000.

"Leadership is what's required here, and that's what this budget is all about," Mr. Brown said.

The fiscal 1996 operating budget is expected to total about $150 million, including increases in only two areas -- $2.25 million for the school system to handle an additional 700 students next year and $3.2 million in additional principal and interest on money borrowed for county and school projects, Mr. Powell said.

No other departments will see an increase from the current year's budget of $144 million, he said. Departments and agencies had requested $177 million. Commissioners will be forced to cut programs in fiscal year 1997, he warned.

Some residents asked why the county must give the Board of Education an increase. Mr. Powell said the state requires the county to give the schools the same amount per pupil next year that it gave this year -- about $3,100. The requirement is called "maintenance of effort."

David Barcroft of Hampstead challenged the commissioners on the issue. "If you don't give them maintenance of effort, who goes to jail?"

Mr. Brown said the county would risk its state funding for schools if it did not give the Board of Education the increase.

Mr. Yates said, "The maintenance of effort is going to increase every year until you can tell people to stop having children."

The next public meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday at North Carroll Senior Center.

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