Officials intend to raise aid for new businesses

$2 million more is sought to help attract companies

Shows `we're business-friendly'

Increase would be funded by projected tax surplus

May 21, 2004|By Hanah Cho | Hanah Cho,SUN STAFF

In a continued push for economic development, the Carroll County commissioners said yesterday that they want to increase by $2 million the pot of money available for businesses interested in moving to the county.

That would increase the proposed operating budget to $262.7 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Last month, the commissioners unveiled a $260.7 million operating budget that includes no tax increases but a rise in sewer and water rates.

The three officials agreed during yesterday's budget work session that they would fund the additional money for economic development grants through a surplus expected at the end of this fiscal year. County officials expect to collect more revenue than they had projected from the recordation tax, which is paid by homebuyers upon settlement.

The commissioners are scheduled to approve their proposed spending plan Tuesday.

"If we appropriate more money ... I think it'll be positive," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge of the increase in economic development funds. "It sends a strong message that we're business-friendly."

Economic development grants offered through the county must be used by businesses for new employee training and infrastructure needs.

County officials budgeted $1 million for the program in fiscal year 2005, but the Department of Economic Development has committed more than $3 million to business prospects, county budget Director Ted Zaleski told the commissioners.

Although not all potential new businesses will accept the grants or do so at the same time, Zaleski said, the commissioners should be prepared to make up the difference.

Zaleski offered them three options: Dip into reserve funds when the $1 million runs out; find additional money for the program; or transfer $1 million that has been set aside in the capital budget for technology infrastructure projects.

Gouge said she would rather leave the $1 million for capital projects and appropriate more money for the economic development grant program.

Commissioners Dean L. Minnich and Perry L. Jones Jr. agreed.

For this fiscal year, revenues from the recordation tax are expected to exceed county estimates by $6 million.

In the past 10 or 15 years, Zaleski said, the county has accumulated at least 1 percent of the budget annually in excess money from either unaccounted additional revenues or reduced spending. Any surplus exceeding that amount typically is carried over to the budget cycle two years from the current fiscal year.

However, the commissioners felt strongly enough about economic development to use the anticipated surplus from this fiscal year to pay for the grant program next year, Zaleski said.

For the past decade, the county has been trying to devise strategies to attract high-tech businesses and light-manufacturing companies that would increase its commercial and industrial tax base of 12 percent, which is the lowest in the Baltimore area.

Those businesses, county officials say, could offer better-paying jobs to Carroll residents. Nearly 60 percent of the county's workers commute to jobs outside Carroll.

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