The Calvert County commissioners could decide this week whether to make spending cuts to bridge a projected $13.9 million deficit in the proposed fiscal 2004 budget.

Last week, after voting on several dozen unresolved funding requests from agency heads and others, board members suggested that they needed to reexamine ways to reduce costs in the $152 million budget plan put together by the county fiscal staff for operating expenses and short-term capital projects.

"I think staff needs to start looking at efficiency," Commissioner Wilson A. Parran (D-At Large) said.

First, the commissioners must decide on Tuesday the fate of a few remaining funding requests, including a request by the sheriff's office to add deputies. So far, the commissioners have added more than $6.7 million to the original spending plan. Once all the pending requests are resolved, the commissioners will scrutinize the budget for possible cuts, before beginning a discussion later this month about potential ways to raise revenue through taxes or other means.

"We need to know how big of a hole we're going to plug," Commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said.

The county's spending plan, which will cover the 12 months starting July 1, won't be official until presented at a public hearing and adopted by the commissioners.

One assumption that guided the fiscal staff in putting the budget proposal together was that operational costs should not increase throughout county government. Despite having adhered to a zero growth policy requested by the commissioners, the budget requires deficit spending.

"Our operating costs are growing," Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown) said. "It's not keeping pace with our revenues."

The commissioners also have more spending decisions pending. On Tuesday, they are scheduled to consider what short-term and long-term capital projects they want to initiate.

Last week, the commissioners voted to add $3 million to the Board of Education funding in the original staff budget proposal. That funding will still be $1.2 million less than the Board of Education requested for operating expenses.

The commissioners also decided to give county employees a 3 percent raise next year -- not the 4 percent increase requested.

That 3 percent pay raise will also be extended to Calvert County sheriff's deputies, but the commissioners delayed making decisions about some other funding requests by the sheriff's office until they are provided with more details about proposed new staff members.

The staff's proposed budget, which includes $147.2 million for operating expenses and $4.8 million for short-term capital improvement projects, does not call for tax increases -- whether that stands will be up to the commissioners. The current county budget is $147.5 million, with $6.8 million marked for capital projects.

The portion of the proposed budget earmarked for areas other than education is $71.5 million. The rest of the proposed budget -- more than half at $80.5 million -- would go to the Board of Education, a $3.7 million increase over the current spending level.

The education total includes $76.4 million for operating expenses -- compared with $73.4 million this year -- as well as funding for capital projects and debt service for education-related bonds, according to the county.

The commissioners hope to hold a public hearing on their budget May 13, with a final vote scheduled on May 27.

County officials project raising $140.1 million in revenue during fiscal 2004. Under the original budget proposal, the staff anticipated using about $11.9 million in reserve funds to balance the budget.