$5 million in spending cuts sought Officials note weak tax revenues in targeting '97 budget

'A very strong measure'

Commissioners hope to avoid layoffs of county workers

January 19, 1996|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

Carroll officials say property and income tax revenues are so sluggish that the county must cut spending by $5 million in next year's budget.

Money is so tight that spending for internal government operations must be cut 9 percent from the $54.9 million the county budgeted for the 1996 fiscal year, they say.

"We've just been able to define the problem. ... The challenge before us is where do we reduce $5 million," Steven D. Powell, the county's director of management and budget, said yesterday. "There will be functions we do now that we won't be doing next year."

The County Commissioners and budget analysts said they will begin scrutinizing all aspects of government operations to determine where cuts can be made to accommodate a $49.9 million spending plan for the internal operations of county

government for fiscal 1997, which begins July 1.

"Our priority will be to do what's right for Carroll County," said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown. "To a man, we feel like we have a stripped-down county government. We're going to do this together and come out with a redefined county government."

Aiding that effort, they said, will be a program that sets priorities for the responsibilities of county agencies. Aspects of county government that were deemed "nice" but not "essential" for residents may be cut.

The commissioners said that retaining county employees would be among their priorities during budget-cutting. Staff reductions, any, would come from attrition and retirement, they said.

"We are sincere about trying to avoid layoffs," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said.

The county's overall projected budget for fiscal 1997 is $162.5 million and indicates an overall increase in revenues of $140,000. A $7.7 million increase in the county's piggyback tax has been earmarked for school construction.

Nearly half of the proposed budget would go to the Board of Education. That includes a mandatory "maintenance-of-effort" increase of $2.9 million. Other money would go toward debt service and fixed costs such as health care and environmental and liability insurance, Mr. Powell said.

Mr. Powell said the county has among the leanest government staffs -- in terms of the number of county employees per resident -- in the Baltimore area.

"We do very well with what we have," he said.

As an example of where spending might be cut, Mr. Powell said the county could limit mowing along roads to intersections, where visibility is important for motorists. The county spends tens of thousands of dollars each year to mow along roadways.

"That means grass may be growing up along county roads," he said.

Commissioners and county officials said they will seek cost-cutting ideas from employees and the public.

Mr. Powell said officials also will decide by month's end where to make cuts in the county's budget for the current fiscal year.

"This is a very strong measure we're going to have to take," Mr. Powell said. "We need to review all areas to see what can be changed."

Budget officials said the county's budget has declined about $20 million a year since the state began cutting funds for the county in 1991.

Besides losing revenue, the county has picked up the costs of various social programs, including home-delivered meals, senior health insurance counseling, senior center operations and youth counseling services.

The county also has assumed a portion of the costs of health services, including inspections of wells and septic systems, food-service inspections, and school health and AIDS programs, county officials said.

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