Carroll County residents will have a chance tonight to comment on the county's proposed $295 million budget for fiscal 2003, which, despite an uncertain economy, includes a 2 percent increase in day-to-day spending and a 48 percent increase to its building project fund.
The Carroll commissioners and their budget staff spent the winter telling county workers, residents and nonprofit organizations not to expect much from the budget, which will take effect July 1. A lack of growth in expected income tax and a 2 percent jump in overall revenue would make significant spending increases impossible, they said.
The proposed budget remains tight but not as tight as predicted.
Less than a month ago, budget officials said county employees probably would not receive a pay increase for the year. That has changed, as county employees would receive a 2 percent pay increase under the proposed budget. But, that probably means employees would receive only a 3 percent increase instead of a planned 5 percent increase in fiscal 2004, said deputy budget director Ted Zaleski.
The plan offers only scant budget increases for most county departments but features significant one-time expenses to improve public safety and education. It includes $300,000 to help the county's volunteer fire departments buy new equipment and $1.1 million to help with startup at the Winter's Mill High School near Westminster.
These bright spots aside, the budget remained as tight as predicted in most areas, Zaleski said.
"Really, education and public safety are almost alone in seeing significant increases," he said. "This is a no-growth budget. Even the increases, if you look closely, are just one-time expenses. They're not overall increases for programs."
Zaleski said he had no indication that many residents would attend the hearing tonight, though he said he expected to hear annually expressed concerns about education spending.
The budget features a 5.2 percent proposed increase in overall education spending, which makes up more than half of the county's proposed $229,756,745 operating budget.
About $21 million increase in proposed construction spending - to $64 million - includes the costly modernization of North Carroll Middle School, outside Hampstead, and the construction of a building at Carroll Community College that will house expanded health care training courses. North Carroll Middle has a failing sewer system, a leaky roof and unreliable heating and cooling systems, and the modernization will cost about $17 million with some of that proposed to be funded by a bond issue and some by the state. The community college health building will cost about $5 million.
Under the proposed budget, the county's property tax rate would remain steady at $1.048 per $100 of assessed real estate value or about $1,593 a year for the average Carroll home, valued at about $152,000.
The annual public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at Westminster High School on Route 32.
After considering public comments, the commissioners probably will approve the budget May 23.