Respite for budgetmakers Carroll County: Tax rate, property value increases boost revenues for 1997-98.

April 15, 1997

FOR THE FIRST TIME in years, the Carroll County commissioners did not have to agonize over where to make painful budget cuts, and how to jawbone agencies into cutting their requests. Nor must they deal with rival demonstrations by angry citizens fighting program reductions on one hand and tax-rate hikes on the other.

That may not soothe festering resentment of the double-whammy tax increase last year, but it should make for a more effective 1997-98 fiscal budget and a more livable Carroll County.

There are several reasons for the relative comfort cushion in this $168 million operating budget. Revenues are up $6 million over the previous budget, largely due to increases in property values. The county is using a five-year plan for operating budgets, providing a better grasp of future implications and needs. Commissioners used a preliminary budget to carefully work through discussions with department heads, with a required 3 percent cap on increases for most departments.

The result is a modest rise of 3.8 percent from the current fiscal year, and a proposed spending plan that should stand up to the scheduled public hearing on May 8.

The same is true for the $46 million capital projects budget, which includes $10.6 million to renovate Francis Scott Key High School (in anticipation of state reimbursement) and $4 million (including state money) for accelerated farmland preservation.

In the operating budget, the largest increase is $700,000 for rising costs of employee benefits. County officials are planning employee pay increases (there were none this year), based on a performance-rating system rather than longevity or grade. That system may be too controversial to implement this time.

Education gets 55 percent of the budget, $93 million. Public safety rises by the biggest percentage because of the expansion of the jail, more funding for volunteer fire companies, and a sharp jump in the resident state trooper contract that provides county law enforcement. As promised, economic development gets 13 percent more to attract new business.

This is a year of welcome respite for the budgetmakers. The greater challenge lies in the future, matching revenue increases to budget needs, without raising tax rates.

Pub Date: 4/15/97

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