Carroll officials adopt $353 million budget

The Baltimore Sun

The Carroll County commissioners adopted yesterday a $353 million operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, about $25 million more than the current year's spending plan.

The vote marked the culmination of a process that must be completed by the end of the month, said Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget.

"It went well, given the circumstances," Zaleski said. "We knew we were facing a difficult situation, both in terms of having the change in the economy, the change in the housing market. ... The commissioners kind of accepted the challenges, recognized the limitations."

Carroll's $134 million capital budget for the coming fiscal year also was approved yesterday, county officials said. That budget accounts for kindergarten additions at two elementary schools; the South Carroll High fine arts addition; and agricultural land preservation, to name a few items.

County officials have listed state cuts, rising costs and revenue losses among the reasons for spending limits. Legislation from the special session last fall led to a shortfall of about $8 million for the county, they have said.

Another factor was the rising cost of fuel - a projected $4 per gallon for the coming fiscal year added about $1.4 million to the spending plan, Zaleski said.

The $25 million difference between the current and coming fiscal years was mostly attributed to $19 million of property tax returning from the capital budget, county officials said. Without that, the spending plan would have grown by about 1.6 percent, instead of 7.5 percent.

Some of that additional funding is going toward the development of two new business parks; the county's public library system, for the new Finksburg branch; and Carroll Community College, according to the plan.

About $172.5 million, or nearly half, of the budget goes to Carroll's school system, and includes operating costs for two new schools - Ebb Valley Elementary, scheduled to open this fall, and Manchester Valley High - among other items. About $35.7 million is budgeted for public safety and corrections, according to the plan.

The commissioners also unanimously voted yesterday to maintain the current real property tax rate of $1.048 per $100 of assessed value for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. That rate generates more than $13 million in revenue, and will mean higher bills for property owners because of rising state assessments.

The commissioners' vote follows the adoption last week of the school system's operating budget, which stands at about $323 million. As at the county level, school officials struggled with tight times in their decision making, eliminating some after-school programs and newly proposed positions.

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