Officials asked to boost funding

Agencies appeal for slice of $700,000 left to be doled out in fiscal 2005 budget

Dozens of programs in need

Commissioners set 2 more sessions to hear requests

Carroll County

March 16, 2004|By Hanah Cho and Mary Gail Hare | Hanah Cho and Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County agencies pleaded yesterday with the commissioners for tens of thousands of dollars in extra money for the fiscal 2005 budget.

The hearing was the first of three where commissioners listen to requests from county agencies for more money. Two more sessions are scheduled for next week.

Like other counties across Maryland, Carroll faces a tight budget year. In particular, the county commissioners' proposal to generate additional revenue by imposing a tax on real estate transactions was rejected by the state delegation. The three county officials had said a transfer tax would pay for an increasing demand on government services in the coming years.

The recommended operating budget for the fiscal year that begins in July is $259.5 million, a 6 percent increase from this year's budget.

Most of the $14.8 million increase would go to continue funding for round-the-clock ambulance services, the county school system and the Sheriff's Office. Only $700,000 remained to be distributed among several dozen county departments and services, including libraries, public safety and social services.

Many of the county's programs saw little or no increase in their budgets, said county budget director Ted Zaleski.

Among them were three agencies that provide social services for mentally and developmentally disabled people. The agencies came before the commissioners yesterday with modest requests of $5,000 each to pay for rising worker's compensation and insurance costs.

CHANGE Inc., Target Community and Education Services Inc. and the Arc of Carroll County are expected to receive $218,855 each for the coming fiscal year.

Linda Mielke, Carroll's library director, brought more than pleas. She also came with a presentation packet that included bags of peanuts and a booklet called, "2005: A Budget Odyssey: How We Reached for the Stars but Landed on Earth."

The library system's recommended 2005 budget increased by 3 percent to $5.5 million, including a salary increase for workers and nearly $7,000 to pay for a security guard at the Westminster branch. But the extra money does not cover escalating expenses for electricity, telephones and bank fees and costs related to filtering the Internet, Mielke said.

Mielke told the commissioners that she also would like to see an additional $38,800 to buy books, an expense that was included in the 2004 fiscal year.

From the Carroll County Circuit Court to the Human Services Programs, officials pointed to a growing demand for their services.

"We are facing serious issues, not just because of financial need but also because of the demands of people coming to us," said Stephen Mood, executive director of Human Services Programs.

That organization asked the commissioners for full-time coverage at the county homeless shelter, a child care worker at the Family Center and continued funding for a triage specialist to deal with emergency assistance.

The Family Center, which helps low-income parents support their children, has absorbed sizable state cuts to its child care program. Only 37 percent of its clients are receiving assistance with child care costs, a program that was fully funded a year ago.

"Our parents can either quit their jobs or find unlicensed child care," said Joyce Tierney, director of the Family Center.

Carroll County Circuit Judge Michael M. Galloway asked the commissioners for an additional assignment clerk who would handle the appointment of civil cases now being juggled by three civil clerks who are often tied up in court, unable to coordinate appointments.

"This will enable the clerks to do their jobs more efficiently," Galloway said, noting there's been a 10.4 percent increase in filings. "The creation of this position would have far-reaching effects on how we process cases." The cost of the position would be $25,000 to $44,000.

Last year, Maryland Cooperative Extension asked for a one-time grant of $12,500 in fiscal year 2004 to make up for state cuts.

Judith A. Stuart, extension educator, returned yesterday to make a similar request this year, warning of possible deep cuts to Carroll's 4-H programs, which are the largest in the state.

That led Commissioner Dean L. Minnich to say: "All day long, we have been hearing about state cuts. This does not jibe with what Sen. Larry Haines is saying about Carroll County getting whatever it wants."

More hearings are scheduled for two days next week, with the Carroll County Board of Education and the Carroll County Volunteer Fireman's Association coming before the commissioners. Next month, the commissioners will propose their operating and capital budgets.

"There isn't a whole lot of room to say, `Let's do this and that,'" Zaleski said yesterday. "You have to understand how much thought, discussion and debate go into the final project. The commissioners really agonize over certain things."

Sun staff writer Athima Chansanchai contributed to this article.

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