In her first budget proposal, Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has called for a $174.6 million operating budget next year, 3.9 percent less than the county is spending this year.
"It's the first time ever a budget proposal has come in with a sizable reduction," said James M. Jewell, the county treasurer. "We've cut $8 million from the operating budget."
Mrs. Rehrmann said she planned to cut the budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 without laying people off or reducing county services.
"It's a no-frills budget," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "It's an effect of the recession. But there will be no layoffs."
The county's property tax rate of $2.73 per $100 of assessed value would remain the same under the Rehrmann proposal.
However, the county's recordation tax, a fee paid by homebuyers, would rise from $3.30 per $500 of a mortgage to $3.71 per $500 of a mortgage -- a 12.4 percent increase. For a house with a $100,000 mortgage, the recordation tax would increase by $82.
"That would bring in about $261,000," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "That additional revenue will be spent on a composting facility for yard waste and a recycling center" on U.S. 40.
In addition, Mrs. Rehrmann has proposed a 19.25 percent increase in the county's water and sewer userfee, Mr. Jewell said. That would raise a $70 quarterly bill by $13.48, he said, the first increase since 1980.
But Mrs. Rehrmann's budget relied mostly on small departmental cuts, such as a $31,158 reduction in economic development.
The Board of Education was one of only a few departments that saw any increase. The county's portion of the Board of Education budget was increased from $69.9 million this year to $72.7 million, or 4 percent.
That $2.8 million increase, however, isn't enough to provide county teachers with the 8 percent pay raise guaranteed in their contract, which is in its third year.
Mrs. Rehrmann has frozen the wages and salaries of other county employees and called on the Board of Education and Harford Community College to do the same.
Ray R. Keech, the Harford school superintendent, agreed to use the additional $2.8 million to hire 86 new teachers before granting raises, Mrs. Rehrmann said. Mr. Keech, who was out of town during the schools' spring break, could not be reached for comment.
Other aspects of the budget reflect a change from the philosophy of Habern W. Freeman, who was county executive for eight years before being elected to the state Senate.
Under Mr. Freeman's administration, most capital projects were paid for with available cash known as"pay-as-you-go" money. Pay-as-you-go money was drawn from the general fund balance left over from the previous year's budget.
Ms. Rehrmann has proposed using a combination of pay-as-you-go money and money borrowed on the bond market to pay for capital projects such as three new schools.
"Surpluses won't be as easy to come by. These are tough economic times," Mr. Jewell said. "We're no longer going to rely on a fund balance or surplus at the end of the year to fund pay-go projects. . . . We've budgeted between $2 million and $5 million for pay-go projects for the next six years."
Mr. Jewell said county officials planned to leave untouched any fund balance left at the of the year in an effort to protect the county's good bond rating, which ensures low interest payments on borrowed money.
Carol L. Bowers is a reporter for the Harford County Sun, a suburban edition of The Baltimore Sun.