Twenty-five people attend public hearing on budget


A public hearing on Carroll County's proposed 1998-1999 budget drew a sparse turnout last night.

Twenty-five people -- most of them county employees -- showed up in the auditorium at Westminster High School for the annual hearing held by the county Board of Commissioners. It lasted 45 minutes.

Six of the 10 people who took turns at the microphone said they sought an additional $16,000 in the budget to expand the work of community educator in the Rape Crisis Intervention Service, nonprofit organization based in Westminster.

The service was allocated $10,000 for the part-time position in the budget proposed by the commissioners -- an amount that was termed inadequate by Ruth Gray, president of the group's board of trustees.

The community educator provides information in the schools on sexual violence.

Karen Dattilio, a local historian who lives in Westminster, criticized the commissioners for eliminating the $25,800 allocation in the current budget that pays for a historic planner. For the past five years, Kenneth M. Short has held the position, which is also supported by a $25,000 grant from the Maryland Historical Trust.

Under the proposed $181 million operating and $43.8 million capital budgets, the county property tax will remain at $2.62 per $100 of assessed value, as it has been since 1996.

The county's piggyback income tax rate will remain at 55 percent.

One resident, James E. Reter of Westminster, asked the commissioners for a tax reduction. Though the property tax rate will not go up, many owners will pay more because assessments have increased, he said. The property tax, he argued, should be reduced to $2.55.

The commissioners have promoted the proposed budget as a turning point for the county, which struggled to make ends meet early in the decade. The state, facing dwindling revenues, reduced funding for the county by more than $20 million, about 10 percent of the county's budget. The county also suffered from a decline in property tax and income tax revenue.

With a robust economy pouring more money into government coffers, the county is on the rebound, officials said.

In the proposed budget, local income tax revenue is expected to jump by nearly 12 percent over the current fiscal year. Property tax revenue is projected to grow by about 3 percent. Overall, spending will increase by 8 percent, according to the budget proposal.

An extra $360,000 will pay for 12 new employees in the county's 100-bed jail addition, scheduled to open next year, and for food and medical costs for the county's growing inmate population.

Funding for the resident trooper program -- the Maryland State Police troopers who provide the primary law enforcement in the county -- will increase by $353,663. The figure includes money for an additional trooper who will be assigned to the state police drug task force in Westminster.

The county will spend an additional $6 million to accommodate growing enrollment in its public schools and for the staffing of two new elementaries.

After two years without new funding, citizen service agencies will receive an increase of $48,000, or about 3 percent more for each agency. In addition, the county has earmarked $43,000 for another therapist at Junction Inc., a Westminster-based drug-abuse treatment and prevention center.

The commissioners plan to adopt the budget May 28.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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