County budget for 2000 passed

But commissioners cut $2.8 million in funding for schools

May 27, 1999|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The county commissioners adopted a $265 million budget for fiscal year 2000 yesterday, and announced an 11th-hour change in their spending plans -- a $2.8 million slash in funding for Carroll's public schools.

The budget includes $193 million to cover the day-to-day cost of county government and $72 million for capital improvements, including new schools and roads. The budget does not call for increases in property or income taxes. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

The commissioners are withholding $1 million from the education budget until the school board agrees to hire an independent contractor to conduct a systemwide performance audit.

"The audit would start with the administration and move down through all the different departments in the school system," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge.

The commissioners also gave the school board $1.8 million less than it requested for operating expenses. School officials asked for $94.2 million, but received $92.4 million.

School board President Gary Bauer said he is not sure where cuts would be made to meet the spending limit. Superintendent William H. Hyde has promised that teacher salaries and planning time for elementary instruction will not be affected.

"The staff will have to sit down and look at where the cuts should be made," Bauer said. "Hopefully, they'll be able to present something to the school board at our next meeting" June 8.

Bauer said it would take at least a few months to begin the performance audit, and could take as long as a year to complete. He did not know how much the audit would cost taxpayers.

"It's not going to happen overnight because we have to sit down with the commissioners and determine what the scope of the audit will be," Bauer said.

Carroll's public schools have never before ordered a systemwide performance audit, he said.

"In the past decade, we've had audits performed on several components of the system -- facilities, maintenance, transportation, personnel and cafeteria -- but we haven't done anything as far-reaching as what the commissioners are suggesting," Bauer said.

The commissioners announced Tuesday, during a public budget preview meeting, that they were going to withhold $1 million in funding from the school system unless the audit was performed. At the time, the commissioners said they wanted to find out whether the school board had implemented the improvements suggested in previous audits.

It was the first time school board members heard of the proposed systemwide audit. No mention was made of it when the commissioners unveiled their proposed budget April 23, or at a public budget hearing May 6.

The hearing drew about 400 people, most of whom wanted the commissioners to fully fund the school system's operating budget request.

The overall fiscal year 2000 budget is based on the current property tax rate of $2.62 per $100 of assessed value and a local income tax rate of 55 percent of the state income tax liability.

The county operating budget -- which covers the day-to-day cost of running county government and its agencies -- increases by 5 percent, from $183 million this year to $193 million next year.

The commissioners saved money in the operating budget by cutting funding for themselves. Rather than adopt a $675 monthly allowance for car expenses and home office costs, the commissioners decided to keep their $12 per diem, a bonus they receive each day they work or appear at an official function.

Carroll's capital budget -- which pays for construction projects -- increased 53 percent, from $47 million this year to $72 million next year. About 9 percent of the money in the capital budget will be used for road improvements, particularly in the South Carroll area.

Pub Date: 5/27/99

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