Panel approves FY 2002 budget

Property tax constant

school spending up by about 9 percent

May 25, 2001|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Despite one member's concerns about Carroll's property tax rate, the Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved yesterday a spending plan for fiscal year 2002.

"We're in a much better financial position than we were a couple years ago," said Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier, who voted against the Carroll property tax rate but in favor of the spending plan. "I think we can afford to give the citizens back a portion of their tax dollars."

Frazier suggested last week that the board decrease the county property tax rate by 1 cent, but Commissioners Julia Walsh Gouge and Donald I. Dell balked at the idea. The budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, maintains the current tax rate of $1.048 per $100 of assessed value, and includes pay raises for teachers and other school employees.

The tax rate was raised five years ago, when the previous board of commissioners increased it by 27 cents to meet the demand for new schools and roads. A one-cent reduction would provide about $15 to the owner of an average Carroll home, which is valued at slightly less than $152,000. The annual tax on such a home is about $1,593.

The commissioners spent about 100 hours in closed meetings drafting their spending plan. The 295-page document they produced allocates nearly $225.3 million to cover the daily expenses of county government, up from $205.2 million this year, and about $43.7 million for construction projects, down from $66.2 million this year.

Increases of about 5 percent

The budget includes slight spending increases - on average 5 percent - for law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and farmland preservation. The school system will receive the largest spending boost - about 9 percent - to meet the needs of Carroll's 28,000 students.

School officials asked for $195.3 million in county, state and federal dollars, about $7.6 million more than they had expected to receive, to fund school employee pay raises, buy textbooks, and hire 16 teachers and other staff.

After several discussions, the commissioners added about $3 million to the school board's operating budget, bringing the total county appropriation to nearly $106 million. In all, the Carroll school system will receive about $192.8 million in county, state, and federal aid.

The commissioners directed the school board to use the additional county dollars to buy middle school books, a one-time expense of $535,000, and to meet the "governor's challenge." This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Parris N. Glendening has challenged school systems to increase teacher salaries by offering an additional 1 percent in state funds if a locality raises teacher pay by 4 percent.

Trims for school budget

The commissioners also ordered the school board to trim about $3 million from its budget. It was not clear yesterday where those cuts would be made. The school board is scheduled to draft a plan of action Thursday and submit it to the commissioners, who are expected to act on the panel's recommendations next month.

"All of the cuts will be painful," said interim Superintendent Charles I. Ecker. "We're trying to take the ones that are least painful."

Ecker is recommending that the school board:

Trim the central office budget by $550,000.

Drop plans to buy elementary reading textbooks, saving about $100,000.

Drop plans to hire 16 teachers and other staff, saving about $861,000.

Require school system employees to pay 2 percent to 5 percent of their health insurance premiums, for a savings of $700,000. Carroll is the only school district that picks up the tab for 100 percent of its employees' health care.

Reduce salary expenses by $725,000 through attrition.

Copies of the commissioners' spending plan will be available late next month at the county budget office, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.

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