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Spending will get a hard look


Carroll County employees will spend the next two months taking a hard look at how they provide services to residents, as part of a new effort by the county budget office to plan for anticipated budget cuts in fiscal 1997.

Steven D. Powell, county budget director, outlined the project last week for the County Commissioners and county employees.

Mr. Powell said the new approach, called "zero-based budgeting," is an attempt to establish priorities in services provided by the county at a time when expenditures for fiscal 1997 must be cut.

These rankings will be used to set funding "marks" that all county departments must meet for next year's budget.

"If you take current levels of service and run it out for five years, compared to what we take in in revenues, there's a gap," Mr. Powell said.

"We've got to close that gap, and that's what this process is about."

An outline of the zero-based plan says that "the goal of all this is not to eliminate any function. The goal is to ensure scarce resources are going to the most important tasks first," he said.

County Commissioners W. Benjamin Brown and Donald I. Dell said they support the new budget process. Commissioner Richard T. Yates was unable to attend Friday's presentation.

"We're going to define for them [county agencies] the level of service we're willing to pay for, given predicted revenues," Mr. Brown said.

"This way if the budget marks are set in advance, they'll know to budget up to that amount and not over it."

"It's going to be a very intense summer to get through the process," Mr. Dell said.

The first phase of the zero-based budgeting process requires all county departments to rank the services they provide and submit the information by July 21 to a "zero-based budget" panel, which will review the information.

The commissioners will appoint the study group, which will have between 20 and 25 members. It will include county employees, residents and representatives from community groups such as the League of Women Voters and the Chamber of Commerce.

From August through October, the panel will hold public hearings at which all county agencies and departments will have an opportunity to outline the services they provide and the resources required to meet their goals. By October the panel will present a list to the County Commissioners ranking all services provided by county agencies and their funding requirements. The commissioners will use the rankings to select the most needed services and set funding "marks" for fiscal 1997 to which county departments must adhere.

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