If there is a phrase that can best summarize Carroll County government's proposed budget for fiscal year 1994, it is "stay the course." While the budget is slightly larger -- about 9 percent -- than the 1993 budget, the spending priorities are almost identical to those in the current spending plan. More important to taxpayers, the commissioners have proposed a larger budget that does not require a tax increase.
Despite some early talk that drastic cuts would be needed to balance this budget, the final proposal doesn't reflect these dire predictions.
The tourism bureau, which Commissioner Donald Dell had suggested eliminating, has virtually the same budget as this year. The health department's allocation for FY '94 is about $470,000 less than this year, which results from the state government restoring grants that were previously eliminated. However, some of the health programs and inspections that were cut will not be restored.
The commissioners have reduced their reserve, or "rainy day fund," to $2.4 million. That is about half the amount they squirreled away in this year's budget -- and the lowest prudent level possible. Should the county be hit with another series of heavy snowfalls next winter, for instance, the commissioners may not have adequate reserves to pay for snow removal.
The largest portion of the county budget is devoted to education. As proposed, 53 percent -- or about $70 million -- will be allocated for the public school system. Last year, about 50 percent of the budget was spent on education. The increase is to cover the costs of educating 600 additional students and recently negotiated pay raises for teachers, administrators and other school employees.
While this budget takes care of current demands, it is somewhat neglectful of the county's future. Despite Carroll's crying need for commercial and industrial development, the commissioners are not allocating money to hire a director of economic development. There is also a 30 percent decrease in the amount set aside for road repaving and a 10 percent drop in bridge repair money in the capital improvements budget.
The commissioners have done a commendable job in taking care of today's needs. But they need to take a harder look at meeting tomorrow's.