No tax raise seen in budget

County salaries would not increase under draft plan

Public hearing May 2

April 07, 2002|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

The Carroll commissioners are drafting a budget for fiscal year 2003 that includes slight spending increases for education, the state's attorney's office and sheriff's services, but offers no salary raises for the county's 600 employees.

"We'll be working over the next couple of weeks with each agency, trying to develop final recommendations for the budget to ensure that each agency can meet its mandated goals," said county budget director Steven D. Powell.

"As always, the budget will be based on the Board of County Commissioners' strategic plan," a list of goals for the board's four-year term, Powell said.

Powell has recommended a $270.6 million spending plan that is based on the current property tax rate of $1.048 per $100 of assessed value - or about $1,593 per year for the typical home in Carroll, which is valued at slightly less than $152,000 - and a local piggyback income tax of 55 percent of the state income tax.

Despite a projected $3.9 million shortfall in Carroll's income tax revenue, the commissioners have said they will not increase taxes to meet expenses. Instead, they are looking for ways to trim spending.

In December, the commissioners ordered county staff to hold the line on expenditures.

Several agencies delayed purchasing copy machines. Others postponed upgrading software programs. And the commissioners must now certify a vacant position as essential before the job is advertised.

With Powell's aid, the board is working behind closed doors to draft a proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2003, which begins July 1.

If the commissioners adopt Powell's recommendations, they will spend nearly $45.7 million for construction projects, up from $43.7 million this year, and about $224.9 million to cover the day-to-day cost of running county government, down from $225.3 million this year.

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

However, most agencies said they were satisfied with Powell's recommendations and simply thanked the three-member Board of Commissioners for its support.

The volunteer firemen's association asked the commissioners for $383,000 to pay fire-engine drivers. This is the second consecutive year that the group has made the funding request. It was not included in this year's budget.

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes asked the commissioners to add about $40,000 to his budget. The money would be used to hire an investigator to help with child abuse and sexual assault cases.

"Our caseload continues to pile up," Barnes told the commissioners. "We feel this is a much-needed position."

Last year, the county's Child Abuse and Sexual Assault Unit prosecuted 433 cases, up from 380 in 2000 and 274 in 1999. The unit also handled more than 1,000 reports of child abuse and neglect, a figure that is not expected to change this year, according to Deputy State's Attorney Tracy A. Gilmore, who serves as the supervising prosecutor for the unit.

The commissioners have said they will carefully weigh all requests, particularly the school system's proposed $212.1 million operating budget, which reflects an $18.4 million - or 9.5 percent - increase over the current year's budget. The county funds about 50 percent of the school's budget.

The Board of Education's spending request for fiscal 2003 includes more than $1 million for new staff and new programs, and is about $7.8 million more than county officials say taxpayers can afford.

Despite the dismal fiscal forecast, Interim Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker has pledged to keep employee raises - which would cost about $6.7 million - in the school system's budget request. School system employees do not work for the county.

He noted that Carroll is expected to receive $1.8 million more than projected from the state because of the county's continued enrollment growth and diminished wealth relative to other counties.

Copies of the commissioners' proposed spending plan will be available April 24 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 2 at Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road. The commissioners are expected to adopt a spending plan May 23.

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