State Delivers Good Financial News

April 07, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

The county heard some good financial news for a change last week, when the General Assembly boosted direct state aid by almost $9.3 million.

The fiscal 1992 state budget includes more than $156.7 millionfor the county, up from $147.4 million this year.

Most of the money would go to the Board of Education. But by suspending the statewide school financing formula, the legislature is allowing the county to contribute $3 million less to school system coffers.

"What they did was give their blessing to the roll back the county is preparing," school budget officer Jack White said.

The state will also contribute $35 million in retirement money for librarians, teachers and community college employees -- up $1.8 million.

The additional money came as no surprise to county officials, but it ends trepidation that Anne Arundel might suffer from the state's fiscalcrisis.

Throughout the session, Gov. William Donald Schaefer has played a game of brinkmanship with the legislature over how to cut programs and raise taxes to pay for a $400 million loss in revenue.

The Assembly rejected Schaefer's $800 million tax reform package, butfinally passed an $11.6 billion budget supported by a combination ofspending cuts and $90 million in new taxes on cigarettes and snack food.

Only the county Department of Parks and Recreation took a major budget-cutting hit, losing $282,052 (21.3 percent) from Project Open Space. The statewide effort to preserve land was partly sacrificedto help pay for other programs.

The Board of Education has asked County Executive Robert R. Neall for $23 million more than it received this year. The state will give county schools $8.9 million more than the $96.9 million it got this year, White said.

School officialshave been wrestling with the county Office of Budget over its recommendation to trim $12.5 million from the board's $353 million request.

But the state money is not likely to make any difference to thosenegotiations because it was anticipated, said Louise Hayman, Neall'sspokeswoman.

"That's about what was used as a planning figure," she said. "If it didn't happen, the cuts would be deeper."

Neall has predicted a $610 million county budget for 1992, down from $617 million this year. And the school board has spent the past six months cutting spending to correct an $8 million deficit of its own.

For next year, the school board is considering curtailing or eliminating driver's education. The 39-year-old program trains 3,200 students each year and costs the county $900,000.

Despite the increase in overall state aid to the county school system, the state budget trimmed driver education assistance from $135,471 to $99,537.

But the school board might have helped its case for ISIS, the plan to computerize administration and instruction, by hiring someone to oversee the project.

ISIS, which stands for Integrated School Informational System, is the school system's project to build a system-wide records networkand produce a computer-literate student body. It has become a favorite target of budget-cutters who complain that the project threatens to swallow $50 million just to make paper shuffling easier for school bureaucrats.

Last year, the County Council held up transferring $700,000 to ISIS until the board satisfied concerns that it had a soundpilot program and expansion plan.

Citing money constraints, Whitesaid, Neall wants to cut $2.6 million from the board's $3.6 million ISIS request.

"One thing that concerns me is that they didn't havea coordinator, somebody in charge," said assistant county auditor Bruce Emge, who has been monitoring ISIS for the County Council.

Butafter a yearlong search, the board announced Wednesday that it has hired a project director.

Overall, White predicted that Neall wouldmake few change to the school board's budget proposal. In fact, "I expect them to add back $1 million," he said.


Direct state aid to the county

RECIPIENT... ... ...FISCAL YEAR 1991... ... ... FISCAL YEAR 1992

Education... ... ... .. $111,711,699... ... ... . . $119,286,608

Libraries... ... ... ... ..1,495,808... ... ... ... . 1,562,022

AACC... ... ... ... ... ...9,483,488... ... ... ... .10,738,020

Health... ... ... ... ... .3,727,048... ... ... ... ..3,847,403

Public safety... ... ... . 5,128,944... ... ... ... . 5,476,979

Recreation... ... ... ... .1,386,015... ... ... ... . 1,099,963

Transportation... ... ... 14,506,170... ... ... ... .14,716,142

Total... ... ... ... ... 147,439,172...... ... ... 156,727,137

Source: General Assembly Department of Fiscal Services

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