Few surprises emerge from Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker's 1992 budget of $270.3 million that he released yesterday: Education takes a big hit and there are no raises for teachers, police and other government workers. The layoffs and tax hike Mr. Ecker previously had alluded to proved less wrenching than anticipated. Only 40 county workers lose their jobs and the executive is recommending a property tax rise of 14 cents, far less than the 26 cents bandied about earlier. Mr. Ecker characterized his first budget as "meeting the needs of our citizens. . . while at the same time dealing with the realities of our fiscal situation."
Yet the spending blueprint headed for the county council seems out of kilter with the character of the region's fastest-growing subdivision. For the first time in memory, spending on education -- a county priority -- will decrease from prior-year levels, requiring deep and painful program cuts. Forty county employees representing $1.5 million a year -- 3 cents on the tax rate -- have been laid off in a token gesture reflecting not so much dire economic necessity as Mr. Ecker's belief that county government needed downsizing. Yet even with the 14-cent rise in property taxes, Howard's rate of $2.59 will be among the region's lowest.