Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker is wasting no time spelling out in hard, practical terms what the "R" word means for residents and employees in his affluent subdivision. Proclaiming a "fiscal emergency," the new executive says remedying a $17.6 million revenue shortfall may call for higher taxes, lower school spending, deep-sixing pay increases or county employees and perhaps even furloughs. These and other measures, including less frequent trash pickup and new user fees, will be painful, but necessary, adjustments.
Mr. Ecker and the Howard County Council face the daunting task of ratcheting down spending at least 6 percent to suture a $17.6 million revenue gap this year and a projected gap of $16 million in fiscal 1992. Like other suburban counterparts, Mr. Ecker has discovered that the usual budgetary moves -- freezing spending, purchases and unfilled positions -- may not be enough.
With the recession dimming prospects for increased real estate and income tax receipts, county budgeteers say they will be lucky to collect $253.9 million next year. That's figuring a 6 percent drop in current spending levels. To close the gap, Mr. Ecker is considering a raft of politically unsavory options, including boosting Howard's $2.45 tax rate, scaling back trash collections to once a week, imposing a 5 percent hotel-motel tax and fees on dumping and recreational programs. He also may press to change local laws mandating merit and longevity pay hikes.