County officials learned from the state Board of Public Works Fridaythat the county will lose only $585,000 in state aid instead of the $1.6 million that had been predicted earlier.
Of the new amount, $317,000 will be cut from the county's general fund -- $229,000 from the state property tax grant and $80,000 for police protection -- thusadding to the projected $17 million to $18 million shortfall, countybudget officer Raymond S. Wacks said.
The remaining state cuts, $50,000 in aid to the county library, and $219,000 in aid to Howard Community College, will affect the county budget indirectly in that the county had earlier asked both institutions to trim expenditures by 5 percent to 10 percent. Now, neither will be able to make cuts of that magnitude.
County executive Charles I. Ecker will conduct a press conference to outline preliminary strategies for coping with the projected shortfall now and in the coming budget.
Among other things, Ecker is expected to tell school superintendent Michael Hickey that the county will not have enough moneyto fund the 12 percent increase Hickey said is necessary to keep pace with school enrollments.
The state cuts could have been worse. When Gov. William Donald Schaefer first announced his plans to trim $33 million from the state's revenue sharing programs, Howard County's portion was to have been $1.6 million.
The library was to have lost $136,000 and the community college was to have lost $601,000. Initially, county general fund losses were projected to be $866,000 -- $626,000 in state property grant revenues and $240,000 for police.
Despite the loss in revenue, the county is not expected to ask departments to take up the slack by triming their budgets even further.
"We're cutting everybody as much as we can cut them," Wacks said. "There has been no decision to go past those levels yet."
Ecker told the County Council recently that he plans to ask in April for permission to borrow potentially up to $10 million from unused capital funds to end the year with a balanced budget as the charter requires.
Theinternal borrowing is possible since the county does not have a cashflow problem, and it would fulfill the letter of the law, Wacks said. Any money borrowed would have to be repaid the following year.
Wacks likened the internal borrowing scheme to several businesses -- one with a deficit, the others with a surplus -- paying for various functions out of the same checking account. The ones with the surplus agree to pay the bills of the one with the deficit, he said.
The borrowing measure, he said, is merely a "safety net" the administrationwants to put into place in case its expense-cutting measures do not reach their goals.
"We are doing our best not to have a deficit, but are using a safety net to cover a worst-case scenario," Wacks said.
The administration is proposing the borrowing scheme because theonly thing it has to go on now is projections of revenue estimates, Wacks said.
The county won't know for sure how accurate those estimates are or how successful it has been in cutting expenses until June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.