Concerned about attracting and retaining teachers, interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker urged the commissioners Friday to spend $5.89 million on pay raises to bring Carroll County's teacher salaries in line with neighboring jurisdictions.
"The teacher shortage is very real," Ecker told the commissioners. "In order to retain teachers and attract new ones, we need a reasonable salary increase." He noted that Carroll County ranks No. 22 in the state for starting salaries.
The school board has asked the commissioners to fund a 4 percent raise for all employees to meet the "governor's challenge." This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Parris N. Glendening has offered to boost teacher salaries by an extra 1 percent in all school systems that raise teacher pay by 4 percent.
Ecker's comments were made during a public work session on the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The commissioners also heard Friday about the school system's need for new staff positions and textbooks and fielded requests ranging from a tow truck for the county firefighters association to additional dollars for tourism.
Ecker and the school board are asking the county commissioners for about $5.5 million more than what the panel has indicated it can provide the school system, said Carroll schools budget supervisor Walter Brilhart.
In addition to the salary increases, the school board is asking for $235,777 for textbooks and $861,600 to hire 16 teachers, two guidance counselors and two staff members to work with technology in schools. In an effort to offset those requests, the school board cut $2.5 million from other areas of the budget, Ecker said.
The school system's proposed $195.3 million operating budget that was discussed with the commissioners Friday night reflects a spending increase of about $12.9 million -- or 7.1 percent over last year's $182.3 million budget.
The Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association, which oversees the county's 14 volunteer fire companies, also made a pitch for additional county dollars Friday.
Bill Eyler, chairman of the budget committee for the association, told the commissioners that the organization needs more than the $5.2 million approved by the county budget office. He requested $30,000 to buy a tow truck for the group's fire prevention, hazardous materials and advanced tactical response trailers, and $383,000 to pay fire engine drivers.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell took the opportunity at the budget workshop to urge the association to settle its dispute with Reese and Community Volunteer Fire Co. over ambulance billing. The commissioners give the association $50,000 a year for each of the 13 companies that provide ambulance service to pay for emergency services personnel.
"This money was dedicated [to Reese] for a specific purpose," Dell said. "You should not be using this money to beat them over the head. There are other [association] funds you could have withheld."
Two years ago, the Reese fire company refused to bill patients a minimum $200 fee for ambulance service. In response, the firemen's association withheld county funds from the Reese company.
John Korman of Hampstead, president of the association, told the commissioners that the money has not been spent. It is being held in an account until Reese agrees to bill at least $200, he said. The company charges $5 for ambulance calls.
Bob Alexander, former president of the association and a longtime member of the Reese fire company, asked the commissioners to write a letter to Reese, ordering them to comply with the association's mandate.
"We asked you to take a stand in the beginning," Alexander said. "If you had, it would have been done. We wouldn't have gone to court and would have saved thousands of dollars [in attorney fees]."
The commissioners are reviewing budget requests before allocating funds from what is expected to be a $225 million budget, which they are scheduled to adopt in May, shortly after a public hearing on the spending plan.
Other budget requests made Friday and last week included requests by:
Jack Lyburn, county economic developer, who called tourism Carroll's second-largest business behind agriculture. He asked for budget increases to "ramp up" tourism promotions, particularly the newsletter and calendar.
The Humane Society, which needs more money to pay the increased cost of cremating euthanized animals. Carolyn N. Ratliff, Humane Society executive director, also asked for $2,700 to pay for a part-time position to handle the numbers of Saturday visitors. The society returned more than $92,000 to the county last year from fines and impoundment fees.
The Emergency Operations Center, which asked for $2,700 to purchase 60 Masters of Disaster kits for all the county's elementary and middle schools. The kits, developed through the American Red Cross, will help prepare children for natural disasters such as tornadoes and hurricanes.