Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall held a meeting last night to discuss the fiscal 1992 budget, but Carl Szuba stole the show and the hearts of the audience.
Neal began the session by telling audience members he needed their help. It's unlikely he expected the kind of help Szuba gave him.
Many of the more than 80 people at the meeting at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association hall came to ask for money. Szuba came to give -- $1,000 to be exact.
Before Szuba provided the surprise of the evening, speakers peppered Neall with criticism of county taxes, praise of county services, and pleas for continued funding of programs.
Then came Szuba.
The father of a 23-year-old mentally retarded son, Szuba had signed up to speak. He walked to the microphone and said the Department of Recreation and Parks was having trouble coming up with the money for a bus lift. He urged Neall to put $1,000 in the budget to keep the buses running, and $1,000 for staffing.
Szuba called on Ann Harris of Recreation and Parks. When Harris came up, he presented her with a $500 check to purchase a ramp for a wheelchair. He gave her a second $500 check to be given to Neall "to keep the bus going."
Szuba then tried to go on with his comments and explain his commitment to the handicapped, but his voice choked with emotion and he couldn't continue. He apologized and returned to his seat as audience members, including Neall, loudly applauded.
Most of the rest of the meeting was filled with dire predictions and tales of woe.
Neall and Steven Welkos, of the county budget office, began it by giving an overview of the status of the county budget.
The county projects a fiscal 1992 budget of $610 million, 1 percent below the current year's budget. The fiscal year begins July 1. "This may be the first time in charter government history that the budget will go down," Welkos said.
Neall said the budget has risen an average of 10 percent in each of the past 10 years.
Already measures have been instituted to limit spending, such as personnel hiring freezes, and county unions have been asked to forgo pay raises until next year.
Speakers said they understood the county's need to cut back. However, they told Neall of programs and services in the county that should not be cut to save money.
Like Carl Szuba, Arlene Lyons and her daughter, Becca, 15, came to speak on behalf of a Department of Recreation and Parks program. Lyons said her daughter participates in the Therapeutic Riding program, a program that provides handicapped children with the opportunity to socialize with other children who don't taunt or tease them because of their handicap.
Doris Franklin, of Point Pleasant, said: "Keep funds in the budget for creek dredging. These people didn't put the this smelly muck there. They shouldn't have to pay to take it out."
Joseph Polinck, the father of a child enrolled at Pasadena Elementary's school-based day-care center, urged Neall to continue and even expand day-care centers in schools.
"I don't know how many of you have the need for day care, but if you don't know about it I think you would be shocked at the lack of and quality of day care," Polinck said. "Pasadena Elementary is nothing short of excellent. And that's not a word I use freely. I urge you to expand or at least continue school-based day care."
Joe DiNunno, a member of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers For Responsive Government, told the county executive to take a hard look at the school portion of the county's budget. Education receives more than 55 percent of the total county budget.
"The school budget is personnel driven, just as the county is personnel driven," DiNunno said. "I think you need to look at the schools and ask is every person a needed person?
"No one likes to fire people, but in a recession downsizing is a necessity. There are more than 7,000 school employees. Less than 50 percent are instructional employees. I think that's an area you have to look at."
Neall is to hold another budget discussion meeting at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Arundel Center in Annapolis.