Commissioners praised for thrift, urged to cut property taxes at hearing


Most of the 11 citizens who spoke at a public hearing on the proposed Carroll budget last night thanked the county commissioners for persevering during a lean economic year. Others offered criticism and said property taxes should be lowered.

"I want to congratulate the commissioners on weathering the economic storm. The damage was kept to a minimum," said Cindy Cummings, president of the Carroll County Education Association.

About 60 people, many of them county and school employees, attended the 40-minute hearing in the Westminster High School auditorium.

The commissioners have proposed a $130 million operating budget for fiscal year 1994, which begins July 1. The budget includes an increase of about $10 million -- 8.9 percent -- in spending over the current year.

The increase compares to an 11 percent increase from fiscal 1992 to fiscal 1993. The current budget is $119.7 million.

Thomas E. Boyle of Westminster, president of the Carroll County Taxpayers Association, said the commissioners should lower the property tax rate because the county will collect $4 million more in property taxes in fiscal 1994 than in it did this fiscal year.

"I know these are hard times. I know you've struggled with the budget. But out there, where we taxpayers are, things aren't so good either," he said.

Most of Carroll's revenues -- 50.4 percent -- come from property taxes. The commissioners did not propose any change in the current property tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed valuation. The rate has not changed since 1990.

The county would collect $4 million -- 6.6 percent -- more at that rate in fiscal 1994 because tax assessments and the tax base have increased. To offset the increased assessments, the property tax rate would have to be lowered to $2.20, which would be the constant yield rate.

Carroll's assessable tax base is expected to increase in fiscal 1994 by 6.6 percent to $2.7 billion.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said her tax bill has increased, too.

But the county also can't lower its tax rate because it needs to make up for $17 million Carroll has lost in state aid in the past three years, she said.

"We're still facing very critical times," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "We will continue to be frugal."

The county will need money for many more capital projects, such schools and roads, in the coming years, he said.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said, "No one can say with any confidence that hard times are behind us."

Richard T. Yates of Eldersburg complained about a recent increase

in water and sewer bills in South Carroll and suggested that the county should use property taxes from South Carroll residents to pay the increases in their utility bills.

Jerry Brunst of Westminster said the commissioners should "purestrictions on our school board to see how money is spent."

Most of the county's operating budget -- 53 percent -- would be spent on public schools under the proposed budget.

Spending on schools would increase by 15.1 percent, or $9 million in the next year. The increase would be used to pay 3 percent salary increases to school employees, employees' Social Security taxes and for the increased cost of educating 600 more students.

In the region, Carroll is slightly above average in overall proposed spending increases. The highest increase is 11.8 percent in Frederick County, and the lowest is a proposed 1.2 percent increase in Baltimore County. Howard County proposes a 7 percent increase, Harford a 10 percent increase and Anne Arundel a 4.9 percent increase.

The commissioners are scheduled to adopt the budget May 27.

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