4% Harford budget cut is sought Goal of budget cut is to avoid layoffs.

April 01, 1991|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Evening Sun Staff

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann today was to propose a $174.6 million county operating budget for fiscal 1992, a 4 percent drop in spending from this year.

The cut is necessary to avoid a rise in the property tax rate and layoffs, Rehrmann said. The current operating budget is about $181.6 million.

Rehrmann said the cut would not result in fewer county services. She and other county officials said money was saved by making across-the-board cuts in travel, the purchase of furniture, replacement of vehicles and other items.

Although Rehrmann is not proposing a property-tax increase from the current rate of $2.73 per $100 of assessed value, she is proposing to increase the recordation tax and water and sewer user fees.

The recordation tax, usually paid by the buyer of a home, would rise to $3.71 per $500 of a mortgage, up 41 cents. Rehrmann is proposing to dedicate the $261,000 that would be generated to landfills, recycling and other environmental matters.

If a mortgage were valued at $100,000, the recordation tax would increase by $82, according to Rehrmann's plan. The proposed increase would make Harford's rate equal to the combination of Baltimore County's recordation and local transfer taxes. Harford does not have a local transfer tax.

Rehrmann also is proposing to increase water and sewer user fees by 19.25 percent, which would generate an additional $728,000 to be used to balance operating budgets for water and sewage treatment plants.

Under the planned increase, the average homeowner's quarterly water and sewer bill would increase to $83.48, up from $70.

The County Council must approve any increases in tax rates or user fees. In approving a budget, it can make cuts but no additions except to the school board's budget.

The council has scheduled six public work sessions on the budget beginning Thursday and public hearings for May 2 and 9. The council must act by May 31 on the budget, which takes effect July 1.

If the council attempts to add to the school budget by taking from other county departments, as it has done in recent years, Rehrmann and other officials said, that would result in layoffs of county workers.

In her first year as county executive, Rehrmann is proposing a $2.8 million increase in operating money for the school board. The money would allow the board to keep pace with the expected enrollment increase, providing for more than 60 new teachers. Rehrmann said that, although the school board and the County Council have the final say, she favors freezing salaries for teachers and other school employees at current levels.

The teachers and other school workers have negotiated 8 percent raises for the next fiscal year. Rehrmann also is proposing to freeze salaries for all other county workers.

"We're trying to work with everyone to move in the same direction," Rehrmann said. "My priority was no layoffs."

As the economy improves, Rehrmann said, hiring and pay freezes will be re-evaluated.

Most Maryland jurisdictions are suffering cutbacks in revenue from the economic downturn, and Harford is no exception, Rehrmann said.

Also, as part of her $45.1 million long-range capital spending plan for fiscal 1992, Rehrmann is proposing, among other things, spending:

* $475,000 to build a recycling drop-off station along the U.S. 40 corridor and modernize a yard-waste composting operation. The county has one private recycling station and no government-sponsored curbside pickup of recyclables.

* $4.2 million to begin closing the old Tollgate landfill near Bel Air.

* $14.7 million to expand the Sod Run sewage treatment plant.

The capital budget would be funded mostly through the sale of about $35 million in bonds and the rest through so-called pay-as-you-go money, developers' fees and other sources. The council also must approve the proposed bond sales.

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