The Carroll commissioners unveiled yesterday their proposed spending plan for fiscal 2002, which maintains the tax rate and includes pay raises for teachers and other school employees, as well as slight spending increases for law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and farmland preservation.
"The school board budget is the county's biggest necessity," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Granted, it's the bare needs that we're meeting, but we feel like we're going to meet the governor's challenge and provide non-teaching staff equitable pay raises."
FOR THE RECORD - An article on the proposed Carroll County budget that appeared Friday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun contained an error in the calculation of the real estate tax on the typical Carroll home, valued at $152,000. Taxes due would total $1,593. The Sun regrets the error.
This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Parris N. Glendening has offered to increase teacher salaries by 1 percent in all school systems that raise teacher pay by 4 percent. To meet that challenge and provide pay raises for nonteaching staff, such as maintenance workers and bus contractors, the school board asked the commissioners to spend $5.89 million on pay raises.
The school board also asked 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. To offset those requests, the school board cut $2.5 million from other areas of the budget.
The school board's proposed $195.3 million operating budget reflected a spending increase of about $12.9 million - or 7.1 percent - over last year's $182.3 million budget. Interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker had been told that schools would receive $187.7 million in county, state and federal funds, or $7.6 million less than the school board requested.
The commissioners propose adding $2.5 million in county tax dollars to that sum to meet the governor's challenge, and directed the school board to eliminate $3 million in spending in other areas.
"We'll have to look at all spending categories to find that amount of money," Ecker said. "It won't be easy."
The commissioners spent nearly 100 hours behind closed doors drafting their proposed spending plan for the fiscal year that will begin July 1. If the commissioners adopt the plan as it is written, they will spend about $225.3 million to cover day-to-day costs of county government, up from $205.2 million this year, and $42.9 million for construction projects, down from $66.2 million this year.
The property tax rate will remain at $2.62 per $100 of assessed value, meaning the tax on the average Carroll home, which is valued at slightly less than $152,000, will be about $3,980.
Most agencies, including the Sheriff's Department, told the commissioners they would be satisfied with the slight spending increases - on average, 5 percent - recommended by the county budget office and embraced by the commissioners.
If the proposed spending plan is adopted next month, the county soon would have more treatment facilities for substance abuse, and around-the-clock, seven-day policing by sheriff's deputies. But county roads will need improvement, particularly in South Carroll, the county's most populous area.
"We had to make some difficult decisions, but I think we've done well overall on the budget, trying to meet the needs of every agency," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge. "I'm particularly happy with the amount of money we set aside for farmland preservation and our efforts to meet the governor's challenge."
Since the commissioners took office in December 1998, they have made farmland preservation a priority. The proposed budget allocates $5.5 million toward preservation efforts, up from $5.3 million this year.
Carroll is one of the leaders nationwide in agricultural preservation, with 33,473 acres preserved. The county has set a goal of preserving at least one-third of its land - 100,000 acres - by 2020. It is one of eight goals outlined in the board's strategic plan.
The board also promised to curb crime and substance abuse in the county. To make good on that pledge, the commissioners have allocated $5 million for the creation of a long-term residential heroin treatment center. About $2 million of that would be available to fight substance abuse in 2002, with an additional $1 million in each of the next three budget cycles.
The commissioners' spending plan also includes $85,000 for an eight-bed unit for heroin users ages 18 to 25 at the detention center. The county Health Department will run the program.
In addition to the commissioners' efforts to curb substance abuse, they are searching for money to support RAAM, Reducing the Availability of Alcohol to Minors, a program to curb underage drinking. It is an effort among state police, the county liquor board, the sheriff, the Board of Education, liquor retailers, the Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, Westminster police and Junction Inc., a substance abuse prevention and treatment facility in Westminster.
The program, entering its second year, costs about $15,000 a year. Since its inception in April last year, no fatal accidents involving intoxicated drivers younger than age 21 have occurred, state police said.
"I can't think of a year before RAAM that we didn't have a juvenile who was dead because of a crash involving alcohol," said Lt. Terry L. Katz, commander of the Westminster state police barracks. He noted that 69 arrests have been made through the RAAM program, most of them for possession of alcohol by a person younger than age 21.
Copies of the commissioners' proposed spending plan are available 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.