Capital project requests exceed available funding


Carroll County has the same problem as many of its residents -- too many things to buy with not enough money.

County officials have lots of ideas about how to spend taxpayers' money in the next fiscal year, but the county probably won't have enough money to pay for it all, the budget director said last week.

In a 43-page document, the Planning Commission has recommended that the county spend about $23 million more than is likely to be available in fiscal 1995.

Fiscal 1995 begins July 1.

The commission presented a $66.6 million budget to the county commissioners last week for projects county departments and agencies requested. Budget analysts had calculated that the county could afford to spend $43.4 million on capital projects next year.

The project that accounts for most of the excess in the proposed fiscal 1995 budget is a $15-million water treatment plant at Piney Run Lake.

The plant had been scheduled to be built in fiscal 1996, but, according to county utility officials, "we need the water as soon as we can get it," said Tom Rio, chief of the Bureau of Building Construction.

The lake was built in 1975 as a future supply of water for South Carroll. To date, it has been used only for recreational activities.

"I'm fairly sure there will need to be reductions in the capital plan as it was presented by the Planning Commission," Budget Director Steven D. Powell said Thursday.

Mr. Powell said he and his analysts are studying revenue estimates and will make a recommendation to the commissioners in mid-January about how much to spend.

The commissioners will meet for work sessions on the budget beginning in February. They must pass a budget in May.

Tax revenues are expected to increase 5 percent to 6 percent over the current year, Mr. Powell said.

"I'm just delighted the economy is picking up," he said.

The $66.6 million proposed capital budget is about $34 million more than the current year's capital budget of $32.6 million.

Local tax revenues should fund 36 percent of next year's proposed capital spending. State, federal and other sources, such as grants, account for the rest.

In the current year, local money covered for one-third of capital expenditures.

The Planning Commission recommended that the county spend $2 million from revenues and $21.9 million in general-obligation bonds in fiscal 1995. The $23.9 million total is $1.4 million more than the county calculated it could spend from local funding.

In the current year, the county is spending $1 million in cash and $7.5 million in bonds.

The Planning Commission suggested that the commissioners move more cash from the operating budget to the capital budget "so the mix of pay-as-you-go and bond funding is more balanced."

The county sold general-obligation bonds for the first time in 1988. Carroll has high ratings from two New York bond houses.

"The commission gave particular consideration to capital projects which were considered as having interagency significance, cost-sharing and projects in an ongoing or completion-type phase," members wrote in their report.

In their deliberations over three months, commission members decided some projects should be completed sooner and others delayed.

They told the commissioners that if the state does not help pay for construction of a new middle school in the Sykesville area, the capital budget plan may have to be scrapped.

The county had planned on the basis that the state would pay about $6 million toward the $11 million school on Oklahoma Road. Last month, state officials said they wouldn't help pay for the school; county officials have appealed the decision.

The $11 million for the Oklahoma Road school and $4.6 million for renovations and additions at Taneytown Elementary are the major capital costs for education.

General government spending would increase $3 million under the Planning Commission's budget, to $13.9 million. This includes:

* $200,000 for engineering in preparation to build a new county jail in fiscal 1997.

* $314,300 to buy the Shriver Building at 130 Railroad Ave. in Westminster for a tourism center and economic development office.

* $400,000 to move the county law library from the courthouse to the courthouse annex and to renovate offices at the annex.

The proposed general government budget does not include any money for a $6.5 million emergency radio system. Planning Commission members said they support the project, but have asked county officials to find money for it in the operating budget. The current radio system is outdated and overloaded.

General Services Director J. Michael Evans said he is working with several companies to determine if it would be cheaper for the county to rent towers and other equipment instead of buying. That way, the county would pay for communications services it uses, much like a resident pays for phone service, he said.

Commission members did not include $220,000 requested for a shooting range, saying the county should find a site for it before construction money is allocated.

The Carroll County Sportsmen's Association is continuing to correspond with Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Torrey C. Brown about building a range in an isolated area of Morgan Run Natural Environment Area.

If the state does not allow a range there, member Bradley Vosburgh said the association might pursue building one in the McKeldin Recreation Area of Patapsco State Park.

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