County took in $4.9 million more than it spent in fiscal '95


Carroll County government took in nearly $5 million more than it spent during fiscal 1995, according to preliminary figures compiled by the county comptroller's office.

But, budget officials say, all but $800,000 of the apparent surplus was expected and already allocated in the 1996 budget.

For the budget year completed June 30, Carroll government spent about $142.8 million, about $1.2 million less than called for in the annual budget, while the county collected more than $147.7 million in income and other revenue, a figure about 2 percent higher than was expected.

Most of the county's revenue came from property and income taxes: $110.1 million. Other revenue -- $11.1 million -- originated from state-shared taxes such as property recordation fees and gasoline taxes. The rest came from grants, permits, licenses, bond proceeds and money set aside in the previous fiscal year.

Most of the spare money from fiscal 1995 was allocated months ago. The county routinely puts money in several reserve accounts, Management and Budget Director Steven D. Powell said.

Those accounts total more than $33 million, but most of the money can be used only for specified purposes -- $15 million is for a loan to Carroll County General Hospital, an additional $2.8 million is for a loan to the county's fire companies and the rest is for various capital projects and loans.

The amount not specifically attached to expenditures for future years -- about $3.8 million -- is held by the county as part of its reserves to meet unforeseen financial catastrophes, Mr. Powell said.

For example, winter 1993 cost the county more than $1 million extra for snow removal, he recalled.

"You've got to be able to pay for things like that, without having to take it from other programs or have to wait another year to borrow the money on the bond market," Mr. Powell said.

Taken together with the county's so-called "rainy day fund" of $2.8 million, the $6.6 million in unearmarked county money amounts to about 4.2 percent of the county's $155 million budget and is a crucial element in maintaining Carroll's favorable credit rating, officials said.

The county will sell bonds to pay for school construction and other capital projects later this year. The county wants to maintain its credit rating, which is the second-best available. The better the county's credit rating, the less money it has to spend in interest on its bonds.

While the $5 million -- $1 million more than the amount to beraised by the increase in the county income tax rate -- may sound like a lot of money for a self-described cash-strapped county, Mr. Powell cautions viewing it that way.

"The bottom line is that we're really only $800,000 -- in a $155 million budget -- ahead of where we thought we would be," Mr. Powell said. He noted that $800,000 isn't even enough money to keep county government operating for two days.

When the commissioners raised the so-called "piggy-back" tax from 50 percent of the state's rate to 58 percent this year, they erased most of a projected $4 million deficit and ensured that the county would be able to pay for its share for new schools this fiscal year.

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