Sykesville's surprise surplus Fiscal budget yields an unexpected $300,000 bonus from one-time events.

November 20, 1996

ONE DAY YOU discover a surprise $300,000 budget surplus, the next day you agonize over buying a used dump truck. Such is life for the town council of Sykesville.

The unexpected budget overflow brought a flood of suggestions from officials in the southern Carroll County town about how spend (or save) it. They range from an immediate bonus for municipal employees to a long-term revolving loan fund for downtown businesses that want to renovate. Paying down the mortgage on the police station, increasing the reserve for future major purchases or buying some major items now, or lowering the local property tax rate were other proposals from the pleased public stewards.

But ideas for spending money are always plentiful. The hard part is writing the check. So it was that the council last week decided to reopen bids for a used snow-removal truck because offers so far have been unsuitable; the replacement vehicle is needed to plow town streets this winter.

Other municipalities would love to face the question of how to use an overflow of some 25 percent of their annual budgets, and learn how to achieve it. The answer is a fortuitous combination of circumstances not likely to be repeated soon.

A dramatic increase in the local property tax base occurred as new housing developments raced to completion and came on the tax rolls. That accounted for nearly half the town's surplus, about $137,000. Money also flowed in from a more-than-doubling of local impact-fee revenues tied to building permits. The county's interim growth control ordinance coaxed developers, fearful of a construction moratorium, into applying for a slew of building permits and paying the fees up front.

County payments to the town also rose as a result of the 12 percent increase of the county property tax rate. Planned town purchases were delayed and budgeted expenses were trimmed. But Sykesville still managed to reduce the local property tax rate by 5 percent and provide expected services such as curbside recycling and police protection.

It is a cause for celebration, but also for carefully managing the bountiful windfall for the budget bumps that surely lie ahead.

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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