Carroll's budget up 6.6 percent


With added revenue from soaring property assessments, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners yesterday unveiled a $302.6 million proposed budget for fiscal year 2007, a 6.6 percent increase over this year.

The budget, which calls for spending an additional $18.7 million over the current year, channels extra funds to public schools, employee benefits, and the county sheriff's office and detention center.

In drafting the budget for fiscal year 2007, which begins July 1, the commissioners stressed that they wanted to keep the process open, so they held public and televised work sessions.

"This is the first year we've really opened up the budget process from beginning to end for all the citizens," Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said yesterday.

"We know perfectly well there will be some ups and downs ... with a state deficit over the next couple of years," she said. "We've tried to prepare as best we can."

Carroll County public schools will benefit the most in the proposed budget -- with an additional $9.1 million, or a 6.8 percent increase over this year. The county has proposed allocating $143.2 million in operating funds for the schools in the fiscal 2007 budget.

The budget includes an extra $700,000 for full-day kindergarten next year. State law requires schools to provide all-day kindergarten for all pupils by the 2007-2008 school year.

The commissioners also announced the county's largest-ever capital budget, according to Ted Zaleski, the county's director of management and budget. The capital budget calls for spending $131.5 million, which is $41.3 million more than was planned for this year. Key projects in the capital improvement plan are for the public schools, Carroll Community College and the county's detention center.

The county's agricultural land preservation program, county roads, parks, the South Carroll Senior Center and water treatment projects also stand to benefit.

Two of the biggest projects are a $67 million for a new Hampstead/Manchester area high school and $49.5 million for a new South Carroll Middle School. The projects are included in the county's six-year capital plan.

"For a new high school in the $60 million range to be totally paid for by the county is a huge effort," said Stephen Guthrie, assistant superintendent of administration for Carroll County Public Schools.

Carroll Community College -- among the state's fastest growing community colleges -- would receive $31.5 million in fiscal year 2007 and 2008 for a 77,000- square-foot classroom building, including a 270-space parking lot.

New roads and bridges would be constructed with $55 million over the six-year plan, Zaleski said. An additional $40 million has been allocated for improving road surfaces. To preserve the county's agricultural heritage and industry, $11.6 million has been slated for easement purchases.

After receiving less than $3 million for land preservation from the state in the last three years, Zaleski said the county should receive more Program Open Space funds. The commissioners are scheduled to formally adopt the budget at 10 a.m. May 30 in Room 300A of the County Office Building.

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