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Although the snow and sleet that blanketed Carroll on Thursday created havoc for many, Steven D. Powell discerned a silver lining in the worst winter storm of the year.

"It's snowing during work hours, so we're not paying (county road crews) overtime to take care of the snow," said Powell, director of the county Department of Management and Budget.

Such is the perception of a nugget of good fiscal news for Powell, who has watched first-hand the beating delivered to county financesby falling revenue and the recession.

Speaking to about 50 peopleat the county Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon at the Comfort Inn, Powell recounted that the economic turbulence led to the guttingof the 1992 county budget. He also previewed what might lie ahead for fiscal 1993.

"After people said, 'You gotta say something positive, we're tired of bad news,' I thought about leaving," he quipped.

Powell told the gathering he detects a kernel of optimism in reports that state sales tax revenue showed signs of recovery in the past two months. And the rates are improved over last year's, when consumeranxiety, spurred by the Persian Gulf war, pummeled sales tax revenue.

But good news about fiscal matters is scarce these days, and Powell said he'll take what he can get.

The lunch guests received copies of the draft county spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. Unveiled last month, the $116.4 million plan represents a meager 1.2 percent increase over the original 1992 budget.

Dismantling the budget during the past year because of several roundsof state revenue cuts has been in exercise in frustration, Powell said. Carroll lost some $6.7 million in anticipated state aid.

Yet trying to craft a budget for the coming year has been equally maddening, he said. Carroll's budget planning for fiscal 1993 is all but paralyzed until the General Assembly moves toward a plan that will give local governments some idea of what revenue they can expect, he said.

The proposed budgets floating around Annapolis are many, he said. And estimates of how much aid counties will receive in the coming year vary to an almost ridiculous degree, he said.

"We need some help(from the General Assembly) before we can plan," Powell said. "That's the dilemma every local government is facing right now."

Powell took the group through a slide presentation that detailed the county's draft spending plan.

To illustrate local governments' frustration with the state in coping with aid cuts, Powell displayed a slide depicting the Clint Eastwood character, Harry Callahan.

Wielding a .357-Magnum, the tough-guy cop is flanked by the words, "Go ahead . . . make one more change!"

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