Baltimore County reports $237 million surplus

Baltimore & Region

November 01, 2005|By JOSH MITCHELL | JOSH MITCHELL,SUN REPORTER

Baltimore County finished the fiscal year that ended June 30 with a $237 million surplus, $20 million more than forecast, thanks to higher-than-expected income tax revenue and a booming real estate market, the county auditor reported yesterday.

About $68 million of the surplus will be locked in a "rainy-day" fund set aside for emergencies.

Donald I. Mohler, a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr., said yesterday that the remaining money would likely be used for one-time expenses such as school construction, adding that a cut in the property tax rate would be risky.

"You can't automatically jump to tax cuts because that kind of boom in the real estate market could indeed be a temporary thing," Mohler said. He added the county had "many needs" for the surplus money, such as renovated schools, new libraries and senior centers.

"We believe that county citizens like and value quality-of-life improvements," Mohler said.

Officials are constantly revising their projections for spending and revenues, as they put together their budget. In the spring, county officials had predicted a surplus that would be $90 million higher than a 2004 projection. But the actual surplus was $110 million higher than that estimate.

They are projecting the surplus at the end of the current fiscal year, in which they are operating under a $1.45 billion budget, to be $184 million.

The figure released yesterday represents the amount of money left over after the county covered its operating expenses for the year. County officials attributed the extra money to higher-than-expected revenue from income taxes and taxes associated with property sales, such as title transfers and recordation.

"It reflects the continuing strong housing market in Baltimore County," Mohler said.

County Councilman Kevin Kamenetz hailed the county's fiscal responsibility and said the surplus would help the county maintain its AAA bond rating.

"The question becomes, `At what point are we saving too much, and should that then be refunded to the taxpayers?'" said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat.

He said it was too early to get into that discussion, given that Smith won't present his budget until the spring.

The county property tax rate is $1.115 per $100 of assessed value.

Councilman T. Bryan McIntire said the "beauty" of the surplus was that it could be used toward projects that otherwise would have required the county to borrow.

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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