Panel drafts 2002 budget

Proposal includes about 5% increase for most agencies

Higher tax rate opposed

Hearing scheduled for May 3

final plan expected May 24

April 16, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Faced with too few dollars and too many requests - ranging from $500 for office supplies for the Ethics Commission to $5.89 million for school employee pay raises - the Carroll commissioners are drafting a budget for fiscal 2002 that includes slight spending increases for education, law enforcement and emergency services.

"The budget is predicated on the commissioners' strategic plan," a list of goals for the board's four-year term, said county budget Director Steven D. Powell. "It works to allocate the county's resources to achieve those goals."

Powell has recommended a $259.7 million spending plan that is based on the current property tax rate of $2.62 per $100 of assessed value, and a local piggyback income tax of 55 percent of the state income tax.

The commissioners have said repeatedly that they would not increase taxes.

With Powell's aid, the board has spent nearly 100 hours behind closed doors drafting a proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2002, which begins July 1. If the commissioners adopt Powell's recommendations, they will spend about $220 million to cover the day-to-day cost of county government, up from $205.2 million this year, and $39.7 million for construction projects, down from $66.2 million this year.

The commissioners' work on the budget follows two weeks of public workshops in which county agencies had an opportunity to make pitches for increased funding.

Most agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, said they were satisfied with slight spending increases - on average, 5 percent - recommended by the budget office. However, the school board, the firefighters' association and the Health Department asked for additional money to put more textbooks in classrooms, pay fire-engine drivers, and develop a heroin treatment program for inmates at Carroll County Detention Center.

Bill Eyler, chairman of the firefighters' association budget committee, asked the commissioners for $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.

"We will give serious consideration to your requests," said board President Julia Walsh Gouge. "We are very grateful for all of the work the volunteers do."

The commissioners also have said they would consider carefully the school system's requests, which range from $235,777 for textbooks to $5.89 million for school employee pay raises.

The salary increases would help bring Carroll County's teacher salaries in line with neighboring jurisdictions'. The county ranks No. 22 (of 24 school systems) in the state for starting salaries.

"The teacher shortage is very real," interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker told the commissioners at a recent budget workshop. "In order to retain teachers and attract new ones, we need a reasonable salary increase."

Shortly after taking office in December 1998, the commissioners pledged to work with the county Board of Education "to address a common goal of providing quality, affordable education that prepares children to join the work force or seek higher education." It is one of eight goals outlined in the board's strategic plan.

The board also promised to "reduce the risk of crime and substance abuse, with attention to prevention, enforcement and treatment." In an effort to make good on that promise, the commissioners are expected to set aside $5 million for the creation of a long-term residential heroin treatment center. Two million dollars would be available in budget year 2002, with an additional $1 million in each of the next three budget cycles.

The commissioners also are considering whether to spend $85,000 on an eight-bed unit for heroin users ages 18 to 25 at the detention center. The county Health Department would run the program.

Copies of the commissioners' proposed spending plan will be available beginning Thursday at county libraries and the county budget office, 225 N. Center St., Westminster. A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 3 at Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road. The commissioners are expected to adopt a budget May 24.

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