Lean budget proposal unveiled in Carroll

The Baltimore Sun

Noting "slim margins" and "little flexibility" in an uncertain economy, the Carroll County commissioners unveiled yesterday a lean budget plan for the coming fiscal year intended to address cuts in state and federal funding, as well as rising fuel and utility costs.

The proposed operating budget for 2009 totals $353 million, a 1.6 percent increase in spending compared with the budget for the current year. Almost half -- $171.7 million -- would go to the public school system.

"This is the tightest budget plan we've adopted" in recent years, said Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget. "The changes are relatively small. The commissioners' mindset is that we're not doing a lot of new stuff this year."

The county is trying to maintain services it provides, he said. The plan calls for taxes to remain unchanged, in a county with about 180,000 residents.

Among the few initiatives that would receive funding are operating and staffing money for two new schools; a new classroom building at Carroll Community College; nine new positions for public safety agencies; a runway extension at the Carroll County Regional Airport, mostly funded by the Federal Aviation Administration; a new Finksburg library and improvements to other branches; improvements and maintenance for roads and bridges; agricultural preservation; and economic development for two new business parks.

Some agencies and organizations would receive increased funding compared with this year, such as the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association and the county's fleet management, largely for increased fuel and utility costs.

This year's budget allowed for $2.45 per gallon for gas, while the proposal for 2009 calls for $4, he said.

Also yesterday, Zaleski previewed the county capital budget. The plan, which projects out six years, has an even gloomier outlook, with many projects being put on hold. The plan totals $144.6 million, down from the this year's $208 million.

Areas taking a hit in the capital budget are public school building and improvements such as a new roof for Mount Airy Elementary School, which has been pushed back a year; Program Open Space recreational projects; and a new parking garage for the government complex, which has been cut.

The commissioners will hold three community meetings on the proposed budget, all at 7 p.m.: May 1 at the County Office Building, May 5 at Hampstead Elementary School and May 7 at Sykesville Middle. A final public hearing will be held at 7:30 p.m. May 13 in the Scott Center at Carroll Community College. The commissioners are scheduled for a final vote on the 2009 budget May 27.


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