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Budget director expected to paint 'dismal picture'


Carroll's budget director is scheduled to explain the county's financial picture to county agency and department heads today at what is predicted will be a somber meeting.

"A lot of people aren't going to like it," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said Friday.

"It's a rather dismal picture," Commissioner Donald I. Dell said.

Although the recession of the early 1990s is lifting, the county must continue to operate frugally, they said. It's not likely employees will receive raises in the next fiscal year, and some projects will be cut to build much-needed schools, they said.

"We are committed to building the schools we need," Mr. Brown said.

Budget Director Steven D. Powell will explain Carroll's revenue and expenditure projection for the next five years at 11 a.m. at Bear Branch Nature Center.

In addition to department and agency heads, the Board of Education and the Carroll legislative delegation have been invited to attend the meeting.

"We all need to get on the same page in the beginning," Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Dell said, "We have to buckle down and get dead serious about spending tax dollars."

Commissioner Richard T. Yates could not be reached for comment Friday.

The commissioners are in the middle of reviewing budget requests for fiscal year 1996, which begins July 1. They have not announced specific cuts.

Revenues are expected to increase about 5 percent to $151 million, compared with about $144 million this year. Operating budget requests totaled $177 million.

Capital budget requests totaled $72 million. The budget office -- recommended the amount be pared to $50 million. The current year's capital budget is $54 million.

Mr. Powell said the county needs to be prepared for possible cuts passed on by the state and federal governments.

The most pressing need in Carroll is schools. Education officials have said the county needs six new schools in the next two fiscal years. The commissioners have committed to building Oklahoma Road Middle School next year.

School officials also have asked for a new Elmer Wolfe Elementary in fiscal 1996, and in fiscal 1997, elementary schools in southeast Carroll, Hampstead and Westminster and a new high school in Westminster.

Building an elementary school costs about $8 million; a middle school about $12 million; and a high school about $25 million.

The commissioners have talked about possible tax increases to help pay to build schools and repair roads, among other projects. Mr. Brown said the commissioners did not plan to announce a tax increase today. Mr. Dell would not say whether the commissioners would make such an announcement.

The county has not raised its $2.35 property tax rate since 1990 and has not increased the state piggyback tax since 1967, even though the state gave counties permission to raise the income tax several years ago.

The county employees' union has asked for a raise, but Mr. Brown said, "It's not going to happen." Mr. Dell said a raise was not likely because the county cannot afford it.

Chapter 550 of the Maryland Classified Employees Association (MCEA) has asked for a $1,500 annual raise for employees in its jurisdiction, said labor relations representative Roger Murphy.

Last year, county employees received a $1,000 across-the-board raise, their first increase in three years.

Union representatives are scheduled to meet with the commissioners April 6 to discuss their request, Mr. Murphy said.

MCEA represents about 100 of the 250 county employees eligible for membership. Carroll employs about 500 people.

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