Faced with a shortfall in tax revenue brought on by a slumping economy, the Howard County administrator has told department heads to submit contingency plans to cut their current operating budgets by 5 percent to 10 percent.
Budget officials said yesterday that between $6 million and $12 million would be cut from the county's $286.4 million operating budget. The cuts would not force layoffs, Administrator Buddy Roogow said, but could result in a hiring freeze.
"We are not panicking," he said. "We are simply going to put funds in safekeeping until we know what the revenue picture is."
Mr. Roogow sent the letter warning 18 top officials of the grim revenue picture earlier this week and asked for reduction plans by Oct. 24. He did not include the school system, community college or libraries.
He said yesterday that he asked school Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and Marvin Thomas, county library director, to defer some expenditures but that he did not ask for specific cuts.
Ronald S. Weinstein, county auditor, has projected a revenue shortfall of about $3 million from a loss in recordation and transfer taxes. Officials are not sure whether personal income tax revenue will be lower than predicted, Mr. Weinstein added. Those figures will not be available until next month.
Howard finds itself in the same predicament as other suburban counties in Maryland, including Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore, seeking to cut spending as revenue projections fall.
"As most of you are aware, local governments in our region ar facing potentially serious revenue declines due to the current economic situation," Mr. Roogow wrote. "Howard County is no ** exception."
He told officials to make their cuts "realistic and reflect the county's priorities to maintain essential services, especially those affecting public health and safety."
He asked that they "limit expenditures to essential items" until the budget office reviews the proposed cuts.
It will be difficult to meet the goals, said Raymond F. Servary Jr., director of finance, because "most of our budget is in people's salaries."
"We would have to cut back data processing costs and will be looking at possible personnel changes," he warned.
William R. Hymes, the state's attorney, predicted that his department would "be in real trouble" by making cuts of between 5 percent and 10 percent.
Jeffrey Bourne, director of recreation and parks, said he would "hold off on buying replacement vehicles and maybe defer some our renovation work."
County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, said he wants the council briefed by the executive branch on the county's revenue situation.