The Carroll commissioners approved more than $300 million in spending yesterday but acknowledged that they may yet alter their budget if cuts from the governor hurt programs vital to the county.
The $245 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins in July includes money to give all county employees a 3 percent raise, but the commissioners have not committed to the salary increases because of the uncertainty surrounding the state budget. The capital budget includes $62 million for school construction, road maintenance, farmland preservation and other projects.
The budget includes increases to the county's income tax and the tax homebuyers pay upon settlement. Those increases would add about $90 to the average county tax return and about $660 to the average home settlement, according to county budget officials.
The tax increases have drawn criticism from county conservatives, but the commissioners have said the increases are necessary because rapid growth has created a rising demand for government services.
The possibility of state cuts lent an atypical uncertainty to yesterday's session.
"I don't have the feeling that we necessarily know where we are or what is left to be done," said County Budget Director Ted Zaleski.
Zaleski said that given Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s decision this week to veto $135 million in tax increases that were part of the state budget, the commissioners should expect cuts that will affect programs jointly paid for by the county and state.
"It's hard to imagine a scenario that doesn't impact us," Zaleski said. "But we could see cuts that mean very little ... or we might see cuts in the millions that would force us to rethink some of what we have in the budget."
Because of the uncertainty, the commissioners have not approved raises for county employees. The budget includes enough money to give all employees a 3 percent pay increase, but the county will hold that money in reserve for now should the commissioners need maneuvering room to make up for state cuts. The commissioners could approve the raises if state cuts don't hurt the county as much as expected.
Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. said county residents have asked him why the commissioners are approving the budget now, when so much uncertainty looms. County law says the commissioners must approve the document before the beginning of June, Zaleski explained to the audience of about 20 at yesterday's meeting.
If state cuts force the commissioners to amend the budget, the proposed changes would go to public hearing before taking effect.
In addition to anger over the tax increases, the commissioners have heard complaints from the county's volunteer firefighters, who will receive about $1.6 million less than they asked for in the budget. Firefighters have said their efforts to provide regular physicals for all volunteers and to train emergency drivers will be hampered by the shortfall.
About half the budget is devoted to county schools. Planned construction includes an elementary school in Mount Airy, a middle school and a senior center in South Carroll, and road improvements across the county.
School officials and teachers generally have praised the budget, though the school system received about $3.4 million less than it initially requested.