BEL AIR -- Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, saying a recession has left the county's fiscal cupboard bare, imposed a 30-day freeze on hiring and purchases yesterday and indefinitely delayed plans for a $16 million county office building.
"We're in the big 'R' word now, and we're going to have to deal with the real world the way it is," said Mrs. Rehrmann, who also asked department heads to submit cost-cutting plans. "We're facing declining revenues."
The executive told a morning news conference that a projected $18 million surplus in this year's budget had evaporated, largely because of a drop in revenue from income and recordation taxes.
"We're going to have to tighten our belts," said Mrs. Rehrmann. "To end the fiscal year at break-even, we'll need [to save] a minimum of $4.5 million, with a goal of $5.9 million."
The new office building, planned for downtown Bel Air, was part of a long-term capital budget adopted by Mrs. Rehrmann's predecessor, Habern W. Freeman Jr., although no date had been set for construction.
The new executive said other projects also may be deferred or postponed, but she did not elaborate.
"Our problem is not just the next six months, but stretches into the next fiscal year," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "The problem we face is not going to end on July 1."
The county currently has an unappropriated fund balance of $1.5 million, but needs one of between $4.5 million and $5.9 million to protect its double-A bond rating assigned by Wall Street rating houses.
If the county does not maintain the required 3 percent to 5 percent fund balance, its bond rating could be downgraded, which would increase the county's cost of borrowing money.
Mrs. Rehrmann discussed the fiscal problems earlier yesterday at a meeting of county department heads, her first as executive. She said she would meet this week with County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson and other council members to discuss fiscal matters.
George Harrison, Mrs. Rehrmann's spokesman, said the executive will announce the appointment of a new director of administration next week to succeed Georgia F. Hodsdon, who resigned last week.
He also said the administration was in the process of evaluating current departments. Decisions on whether to release any current department heads are expected after the process is completed, Mr. Harrison said.