County Commissioners assured South Carroll residents last night that educating their children is a priority, even though money is tight.
"The commitment is strong," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said at an informational meeting on the county budget at Carrolltowne Elementary School. "It's eight [new] schools in six years."
About 200 people attended and many asked about education spending. Others questioned a proposed increase in the piggyback income tax and whether the county would form its own police force.
Linda Murphy of Sykesville said the community is wondering, now that workers are grading the construction site, whether the county has the money to complete the $13 million Oklahoma Road Middle School. A large number applauded.
South Carroll residents fought for the school two years ago to relieve crowding at Sykesville Middle.
Budget Director Steven D. Powell said local legislators told him the state's share of the cost to build the school -- about $6 million -- would be in the capital budget approved last night in Annapolis.
"Right now, Oklahoma Road Middle School is going through," he said. "I'm fully expecting the money to be there."
Del. Richard N. Dixon, a Westminster Democrat who had been working to secure the state money, could not be reached for comment.
The meeting was the third of five sponsored by the county to explain why the commissioners have proposed raising the piggyback tax. Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates also attended.
Carroll will have a $4.2 million deficit in fiscal 1996, which begins July 1, because the rate of revenue growth is leveling off and expenditures are continuing to grow.
The commissioners want to raise the piggyback tax to 60 percent from 50 percent. The increase would bring in about $4 million in fiscal 1996, and would cost the average taxpayer about $150 a year.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Dell support it. Mr. Yates is opposed.
The increase is needed to build schools, Mr. Brown said.
The commissioners propose building eight schools in the next six years to accommodate a student population expected to grow to 28,000 by 2000, an increase of 4,100.
Walter White of Sykesville said he was "tired of subsidizing" new residents.
Sixty percent of the new students in the next five years will come from families already living in Carroll, Mr. Brown said.
"We still have a vexing problem," he said.
The commissioners are working on a growth-management ordinance that will include caps on building permits, he said.
Growth also has created the need for more police protection, said Kathy Martin of Eldersburg.
"What we have now is adequate," she said. "Is a Carroll County police department a moot point now?"
Several years ago, officials studied the idea of forming a county police force to replace the Maryland State Police Resident Trooper program.
Mr. Yates said the county property tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed valuation would have to rise to $5 to pay for a police force.
The operating budget is expected to total about $150 million.
The next public meeting is at 7 p.m. Monday at the Mount Airy branch of the county Public Library.