The county's second citizens' budget hearing last night ran like a replay of the 1990 election, with competing demands for more school money and lower property taxes.
More than 100 people attended the session at the Arundel Center in Annapolis, answering County Executive Robert R. Neall's open invitation to tell him how they want their taxdollars spent.
Some were drawn by reports that Neall is considering cuts to bring in the 1992 operating budget under $610 million, or $7 million lessthan this year.
Neall repeated his promise to protect front-line teachers, police and firefighters from budget cuts. But everything else is up for grabs, he said.
Already, the Office of the Budget hasadvised Neall to chop $12.5 million from the Board of Education's request for $353 million.
With 1,500 new students expected in Anne Arundel next year, Rhonda Pindell Charles argued that the county cannot afford to cut the school board's proposed budget.
"If our county is to keep pace with our rapidly changing and ever-evolving society, then our county students must be adequately prepared to meet life'sopportunities and challenges," said Charles, who spoke for the Parole Elementary School PTA.
Although the school board wants $23 million more than the $330 appropriated in 1991, that's less than half thegrowth rate it enjoyed under Neall's predecessor, O. James Lighthizer.
But others were drawn by Neall's prediction that money will be too tight for him to seek a property tax cut when he presents his budget to the County Council in May.
"We are concerned about indications in the press and other sources that the taxpayer might be sacrificed once again," said Robert Schaeffer, who leads the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association.
AATA is the successor group to Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive government, which tried to win ballot approval last year to limit county property tax revenues.
Schaeffer challenged Neall to release details of proposed department budget so that AATA could find the cuts needed to lower the tax rate.
AATA has taken a wait-and-see attitude while Neall tries to bring spending undercontrol. But the group was quietly disappointed by his first bills to the council, which adopted the minimum level of property tax reliefmandated by the General Assembly and raised the salary cap for newlyhired department chiefs.
Neall made no promises to either factionat last night's meeting, saying only that their opinions are crucialto is decisions.
"Not a single solitary budget decision has been made other than the obvious one to pay the public debt," he said. "This is not something we cooked up for people to come and yell at us and forget it."
Many of the county's budget decisions will be drivenby a $9 million shortage in projected revenues this year and pessimistic predictions for the new fiscal year.
But Neall did say he wants the county to end next year with a 3 percent surplus to maintain its credit rating with Wall Street bond-rating services.
That wouldproduce a surplus of about $18.3 million next year, requiring budgetcuts of about $14.8 million to add to the $7.5 million surplus expected this year.