County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann last week told department chiefsto cut operating costs and said she'll continue indefinitely a hiring and procurement freeze she imposed Dec. 4, one day after she took office.
Larry Klimovitz, Harford's actingbudget director, said Monday that Rehrmann decided to continue what started out as a 30-day hiring and purchasing freeze after reviewing the state's most recent deficit projections.
Those projections likely will mean state aid to Harford and othercounties will be trimmed, said Klimovitz.
All new hires, promotions and purchases will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis by what Klimovitz called "the freeze committee." The committee consists of Klimovitz, James M. Jewell, the county treasurer, and John O'Neill Jr., the new director of procurement.
In addition, Klimovitz said Rehrmann had asked all department heads to turn in lists this Friday of "manageable cuts" in operating costs for the next six months.
This week likely will bring an announcement of proposed delays or cuts in capital projects, Klimovitz added. But he would not be specific on whichprojects were being reviewed for possible delays or cuts.
The emphasis on cost-cutting follows Rehrmann's December announcement that Harford's coveted AA bond rating could be at risk because, for the first time since 1983, Harford is not expected to have a budget surplus left when the 1991 fiscal year ends June 30.
To maintain the bond rating granted by Moody's and Standard & Poor's, two nationally recognized bond-rating houses, Harford must have a minimum of 3 percent ofthe county's budget, or $4.5 million, left as of June 30, said Rehrmann.
"We've got a menu of projects we're reviewing," Klimovitz said.
"We're trying to see which can realistically be trimmed. Anything funded through pay-go that is cut for now is a plus to the treasury."Pay-go, or "pay-as-you-go," projects are paid for by cash the countyhas on hand instead of using borrowed money.
Klimovitz said that the Rehrmann administration is not considering proposing a property tax hike in the next budget year or layoffs of county employees.
Jeffrey Wilson, the County Council president, said Tuesday that he expected the council would review legislation to change the capital budget at its meeting Thursday. The council usually meets the first three Tuesdays of the month, but is meeting this Thursday because of the county holiday Jan. 15 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday.
"I don't see where anything Mrs. Rehrmann is suggesting would mean a capital project wouldn't be done," said Wilson. But Wilson, like Klimovitz, refused to comment on the proposals he was asked to review.
Klimovitz said the triple combination of operating cost cuts, delays in capital projects or alternative financing and the hiring and purchasing freeze should see Harford through the tough times.
"The state's doubled the size of the projected deficit and that's an indicator of what we may expect county-wide," Klimovitz said.
"We're looking at a half million to $1.5 million loss in state aid. Those cuts would affect Harford Community College, libraries, state aid for police protection and economic development, among other programs."
Klimovitz said economic forecasts say the economy's downturn will last until spring. Harford can survive the downturn by tightening spending controls now, he said.
"The latest forecasts I've read say in April we'll hit bottom," said Klimovitz. "Harford County has not been hitas hard as some of the other counties. If we take a real strong doseof medicine now and watch our spending, we can get through."