Officials listen to pleas for funding

Physicals for firefighters, school issues dominate hearing on 2005 budget

Carroll County

May 12, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

Carroll County volunteer firefighters pleaded last night for more money to pay for yearly physicals as the county commissioners held a hearing on their proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

The hearing at Carroll Community College in Westminster drew about 50 people, a dozen of whom spoke. Most were firefighters who said a lack of funding would hurt a program that provides annual physical exams for the volunteers.

"Little did I realize ... when I joined the fire department that I would stand here and plead to the commissioners to fully fund the physicals program," said Robert Alexander, a member of the Reese & Community Volunteer Fire Company.

Other residents raised concerns over challenges the county's schools will face in yet another year of fiscal constraints.

"This budget is about challenges for all of us," said Barry Potts, president of the Carroll County Education Association.

The county's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $260.7 million for operating costs and $60.2 million for capital projects.

The budget is 6.5 percent higher than this year's, which totals $244.7 million. Most of the $16 million increase would go toward continued funding for the county school system, round-the-clock ambulance service, the sheriff's office and the detention center.

Last night's hearing contrasted starkly with last year's, when residents criticized the commissioners for approving increases in impact fees, the income tax and the recordation tax, which homebuyers pay upon settlement.

Proposed increases in sewer and water fees - the second increase in as many years - drew no comment last night. The increases would affect most of the county's 10,180 public water and sewer customers, most of whom live in South Carroll.

An average household in South Carroll - using 100,000 gallons a year - would pay about $43 more a year for water and sewer service. Heavy users - those who consume more than 160,000 gallons a year - would pay up to $70 more a year. Homeowners in South Carroll currently pay an average of about $800 per year for water and sewer service.

The proposed budget for the Carroll County Volunteer Firemen's Association calls for $5.1 million. But that's $228,000 less than the association needs for the physical examinations program, whose funding has remained steady for three years, said Bill Eyler, chairman of the association's health and wellness committee.

"Is this program expensive? Yes, it is," Eyler said. "Is it worth it? Yes, it is."

The commissioners have said they are facing increased demand for public safety and other services, rising expenses and higher expectations.

More than half of the county's budget for next year would go to Carroll schools, but education officials had asked for about $2.8 million more than was allocated by the commissioners.

Superintendent Charles I. Ecker thanked the commissioners for their support and said the money would pay for new teachers, provide competitive salaries and replace outdated computers.

County officials also are proposing to set aside $500,000 to begin planning for a project to relieve crowding in North Carroll High School in Hampstead.

To guard against last-minute changes to the state budget for next year, the commissioners are proposing to increase the county's reserve by $782,990.

County budget officials plan to spend $4.4 million from the operating budget to pay for some immediate needs that are not included in the capital budget - road repairs and maintenance, a Finksburg library branch and infrastructure projects to encourage economic development.

The capital budget includes improvements at Carroll Community College, relocation of the county's 911 center and construction of an addition at the Taneytown library.

The commissioners are expected to approve the budget May 25.

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