More dollars made sense Tax increase allows county to catch up, prudently plan for future.

June 03, 1996

THE 27-CENT increase in the property tax rate adopted by the Carroll County Board of Commissioners last week was a necessary, if unpopular, step for a rapidly growing county with a backlog of long delayed needs and a list of mounting obligations.

It must not be seen as prelude to a series of tax increases in coming years. Rather, it is a clarion call for the commissioners to exert strong, foresighted budgetary and fiscal leadership. It is an opportunity to catch up, which must not be squandered, and to get the county's finances on firm footing; interest payments on county debt will rise 28 percent in 1996-97.

The county must live within its means, after this 12 percent hike in the property tax and last year's 16 percent increase in the state income tax piggyback rate. Those two local taxes generate 80 percent of county revenues.

The $162 million budget for the '97 fiscal year is hardly excessive. Twenty-five jobs were cut. The operating budget rises only 4 percent. The capital projects budget is $6 million less than this year. Much of the property tax increase will cover expected shortfalls in revenue.

Education, which takes up 55 percent of operating and capital budgets, was both a winner and loser. The county wisely voted to pay for two new elementaries, hoping the state will reimburse it later. But the operating budget was only increased the minimum amount required by the state to meet rising enrollments.

Farmland preservation and economic development were also winners. A whopping $2.8 million from the tax increase (plus $1.5 million from elsewhere) will go to buy easements on agricultural land, while the trust fund to benefit business expansion gets $1 million, seven times this year's allocation.

New solid waste programs of $34 million, considered urgent only two years ago, were axed from the capital budget, backed by a new report from the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority that urges more caution in constructing composting and incineration plants.

The budget adds $300,000 for lights at two athletic fields, after getting a state grant. This by the same commissioners who earlier rejected $265,000 in government grants, "on principle," to build a linear park in Westminster -- proving there's room for growth in both dollars and sense in county financial management.

Pub Date: 6/03/96

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