One suggestion for reducing the education budget is to close one or more schools, or close media centers in all county schools.

Howard believes that would be a mistake and a sacrifice of long-term quality of education for short-term fiscal gains.

He said it was his and Shoemaker's shared sense of urgency that compelled them to "go out and tell our side of the story."

He conceded that, at times, it has been "a very weird phenomenon," particularly when they've made presentations in the districts of fellow commissioners who don't agree with them on the education budget.

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Howard said that closing even one county school would create a ripple effect that would disrupt and over-burden the remaining schools, and create a nightmare of redistricting and reshuffled bus routes.

"There is no savings — zero savings — in closing schools," he said. "None."

But with school closings looming as a remote possibility, Howard and Shoemaker urged residents to contact their commissioners, keep an eye on the budget process and become part of it as it unfolds this spring.

Howard said he believes the final shape and outcome of the FY 2014 budget is going to determine if "we will keep Carroll strong or not.

"The public must be part of the process," he said. "We want people to weigh in and exert some influence."

During the evening, Howard also outlined a number of additional proposals for both the FY 2014 capital and operational budgets. His one-time capital budget proposals include:

• $2 million property tax rebate,

• additional $1 million for economic development infrastructure

• $3 million toward the technology fund for schools, the community college and libraries.

Howard's operating budget proposals include:

• $100,000 per year to fund Sunday hours for the Westminster and Eldersburg branches of the Carroll County Public Library.

• $150,000 to fund a full-time veterans service officer to help veterans access the benefits to which they are entitled.

"Whatever your opinions are on the budget, please make them known, because the implications are great," Shoemaker said.