Across-board Hikes Not In Rehrmann's Borrowed Budget

Departments' Needs Treated Individually

April 07, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

In a significant departure from her predecessor's policy of not borrowing money in the bond market, County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann is proposing the county borrow $13.1 million in her 1991-1992 budget.

The borrowed money would be used to pay for eight capital improvement projects (see list in related story, Page 6), including the county's share of the costs of building three new schools and capping the closed Tollgate Landfill near Bel Air.

Rehrmann's proposed budget contains another departure from her predecessor, Habern W. Freeman: Instead of granting across-the-board percentage increases to all county departments, she built her 1991-1992proposed operating budget using a department-by-department approach.

Rehrmann is proposing an operating budget of $174.6 million -- 4 percent less than the current year's $181.6 million budget.

In herbudget she proposes maintaining the county's property tax rate of $2.73 per $100 of assessed value. The property tax rate for properties in the county's three municipalities will remain at $2.34 per $100 ofassessed value. Rehrmann said she reviewed each department, then, based on the department's current budget, made cuts or added money to develop the fiscal 1992 budget.

"The easy way to do a budget is to do a 3 percent, 4 percent, 5 percent increase," said Rehrmann. "But we tried to look at the roles and missions of the departments and see who could be cut without impacting their mission. We tried to make sure every department could maintain their level of service."

She said she plans to use the principles of zero-based budgeting, which means each department must justify "each and every request, each and every year." This is in contrast to other budgetary procedures in which budgets build upon themselves and are increased by a percentage each year to account for inflation, Rehrmann said.

During at least his last three years in office, Freeman's budgets granted county departments equal percentage increases in their budgets.

The biggest department cuts made by Rehrmann in her first proposed operating budget: $1.2 million in the county's environmental affairs operating budget and $700,000 from the emergency services budget.

"Although it appears $600,000 has been cut from their budget, this is not the case," said Larry Klimovitz, director of administration. "That $600,000 for emergency services capital facilities has been more appropriately placedin the county's capital budget."

The other $100,000 came from a voluntary budget reduction by James Terrell, chief of emergency operations. He said he reduced his department's monetary request by at least $50,000, and postponed plans to buy a $50,000 communications system.

James M. Jewell, the county treasurer, said money for environmental affairs was cut because the tipping fee at the waste-to-energy plant located on Aberdeen Proving Ground has dropped.

Also hard hit is the Parks and Recreation Department, which Rehrmann proposes giving $147,000 less than allotted in the current fiscal year budget, which ends June 30.

Stan Kozenewski, director of Parks and Recreation,said the trim means he won't be able to buy lawn mowers, a tractor or a Rototiller. His department will have to focus on repairing such equipment it has now instead of buying new lawn care equipment, he said.

"We understand it's a tight year, and we can exist, but with the population growing the demand for more services in terms of the number of programs we offer and the standards of maintenance are also growing," he said.

In addition to cutting departments' budgets basedon the amount they received this year, Rehrmann also denied proposednew purchases. Some examples:

* Joseph P. Cassilly, the county state's attorney, was denied about $55,000 for new office equipment, furniture and a department automobile.

* The Board of Elections was denied $800,000 to purchase new voting machines that would have tallied votes more quickly than machines used now.

The executive granted increases to only a few departments.

* The Board of Education received a $2.8 million (4 percent) increase in the amount the county contributes to the board's total budget.

The county's portion of the Board of Education budget was increased from $69.9 million this year to $72.7 million in the 1991-1992 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

* The county's Department of Planning and Zoning received a $90,000 increase that will be used to pay for consultants to study building design standards, the fiscal impact of development and provide an analysis of agricultural economic development potential.

* The Harford County Public Library received an additional $100,000. That moneyis to be used to open a branch in Whiteford.

Rehrmann said one reason she cut the county budget by 4 percent is that the county's two main sources of income, property and income taxes, are not growing atthe rates they had been.

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