The Carroll County commissioners adopted a $302.6 million operating budget yesterday, a 6.6 percent increase over this year's budget, while holding the line on the property tax rate.
Officials said the current property tax rate - $1.048 per $100 of assessed value - has remained constant over the past 10 years.
With the average Carroll home assessed at almost $200,000, residents pay an average of about $2,096 a year in property taxes.
Just over half of the fiscal year 2007 budget - $152.6 million for operating expenses and debt service - will be allocated to Carroll County public schools. Teacher pay raises, full-day kindergarten and hiring additional data clerks to manage mounting paperwork are among the school system's spending priorities for next year.
The bulk of the county's remaining operating funds will be directed toward government departments ($47.6 million) and public safety and corrections ($31.1 million).
The county expects about a $10 million surplus this year, according to Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget.
Surplus funds can pay for one-time expenses, but can't support tax cuts, the commissioners stressed.
"The good times are here, but they're going to change," Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr. said. "It's irresponsible to lower taxes just because it's an election year."
Instead, the county's agricultural preservation program and school construction projects could receive the surplus, Zaleski said.
The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Faced with rising construction costs, the commissioners also approved the county's largest-ever capital budget.
The commissioners approved spending $129 million on capital projects. Key allocations are for the South Carroll Senior Center ($11.2 million), agricultural land preservation ($11.6 million), Ebb Valley Elementary School ($6.1 million) and a classroom addition for Carroll Community College ($2.5 million).
"We've squeezed a lot out of turnips," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said.