County Executive Robert R. Neall told the General Assembly delegation his plans to arrest spending yesterday, prompting one delegate to suggest locking up the Board of Education.
Reviewing cost-cutting measures already taken, Neall added that the county probably will not negotiate a cost-of-living raise with its 11 public employee unions.
Neall said he's too busy trying to "keep the wolves away" to explain why the county has not presented "a single solitary bill" to the delegation.
The new executive found support from many delegation members who gave the annual warning that county spending plans could minimize levels of state aid.
"There aren't going to be too many people up there happy about the counties talking about pay increases," said Sen. Jack Cade, R-Severna Park, a member of the Budget and Taxation Committee. "Maybe the effort should be on keeping as many (county employees) working as possible and be damn glad they have a job."
Delegate Michael Bush, D-Annapolis, agreed, saying that the county should not expect an ambitious legislature, with the state facing a $400 million deficit this year.
Several delegates criticized management of the school system, which has frozen hiring and cut spending to cope with an $8 million deficit this year.
Although part of the shortfall is due to doubling of fuel costs after Iraq invaded Kuwait, Delegate John Gary, R-Millersville, pounced on the fact that about $5 million of that deficit is from the board's practice of hiring personnel on the assumption of future turnovers.
The board has the flexibility to spend its money as it sees fit, but it is technically illegal to exceed the budget granted by the council.
"What do you do, lock them up?" Gary asked. "We've never been able to stop it. Put out a few warrants."
Neall joined Gary's complaint against school officials and again pledged that the county would not bail the system out using a fourth-quarter transfer of general funds.
Neall and several delegates also complained that the board had a list of 11 capital projects, but not one is beyond the planning stages and, therefore, not in line for state assistance.
But the school board was not the department that faces spending constraints.
Neall imposed a hiring freeze and spending controls last week to support his primary short-term goal of protecting the county's projected $17 million surplus for the year.
But the county could show a $17 million deficit in the fiscal year beginning July 1 unless it abandons or defers plans for a long list of initiatives supported by the previous County Council and former County Executive O. James Lighthizer, said acting county Budget Officer Steven Welkos.
These programs include a long-term $50 million plan to use computers for school records and class instruction; renting a branch library on Mountain Road in Pasadena; hiring two police academy classes; and expanding the number of firefighters to reduce overtime.
Neall must also decide by July 1 whether to proceed with a Lighthizer administration plan to buy two office buildings in Parole for $12.9 million. If he kills the deal, the county would lose $1 million in option money committed last month.
"There's not nickel of pay raise in any of these figures, not one cent," Neall said.
A 1 percent pay raise would cost the county about $4.5 million, Welkos said. Even with no cost-of-living increase, the county will spend $14 million more next year on merit raises and other benefits Welkos also said that the county is considering raising revenue by increasing processing fees such as building permit application charges.
Despite the gloomy financial outlook, Delegate Ray Huff, D-Pasadena, pushed the case for money to buy the Fort Smallwood Road horse farm property, for use as a spoils site for Rock Creek dredging.
NOTE: THIRD LAST PARAGRAPH, LAST SENTENCE READS "Even with no cost-of-living increase, the county will spend $14 million more next year on merit raises and other benefits built into existing law." in system.
Hard to tell if edited out or printing error because no punctuation at end of sentence in printed copy.