Budget lean in city, Baltimore, Howard counties Ecker asks 14 rise in property tax

April 17, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker proposed yesterday a $270.3 million budget that would raise the property tax rate by 14 cents while cutting spending in nearly every area and forgoing raises for teachers and government employees.

Mr. Ecker said a depressed housing market and decline in personal income tax revenues forced him to cut spending by $16 million, or 5.6 percent, to order the 40 layoffs announced Monday and trim 119 vacant positions in the government.

He also recommended increasing the amusement tax from 5 percent to 7.5 percent effective Oct. 1 and raising numerous business-related fees, such as for building permits and dumping at the landfill. Those measures would generate $10.5 million.

Mr. Ecker said he knew he would make "a lot of enemies" with his decisions, particularly the layoffs and eliminating of cost-of-living raises and various longevity pay increases normally given to teachers and county employees.

"Certainly a lot of people are upset with me, but I am not doing it for a popularity contest but to put us on a sound basis for the future," said Mr. Ecker, adding that the 14-cent tax increase was his "absolute limit."

Asked how the layoffs had affected morale, the executive said he believed that "morale went up today, when people found they were not laid off." He added that he hoped to avoid further layoffs in the future.

"It is not my intent to lay off anybody," he said. "I can't guarantee it, but I will try my best not to lay anybody off."

The tax rate proposed by Mr. Ecker -- $2.59 for each $100 of assessed value -- is the highest since 1978, when it was $2.63. The owner of the average-priced $180,000 house would pay $198 more in taxes, or a total of $2,000.

Mr. Ecker said that because of its wealth, Howard County has been providing "services other counties only can dream about," but he maintained that his cuts would not affect "critical services or the overall quality of other services delivered."

The cut expected to generate the most controversy is Mr. Ecker's $8.9 million reduction in the school board's request, which he said would cover pay raises and step increases for teachers and other school system employees.

The County Council has authority to restore money trimmed from the education budget, but in other areas it can only make further cuts.

Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent of the county schools, said the cut will have an adverse impact on building maintenance, as well as the supply of textbooks, library books and other materials, but it would not have an effect on class sizes.

He said the school board cut $12.5 million from the superintendent's request, and with the additional cut by Mr. Ecker "it really represents $21 million below what the superintendent requested at a time when 1,300 new students are coming into the system."

Mr. Ecker's austere proposal included few expansions of programs.

Curbside recycling will be expanded from its current 12,000 homes to 28,000 -- slightly more than half the households in the county.

A new library and health center will open in Savage, and two new schools are to open next year, Pointers Run Elementary in Ellicott City and Mayfield Woods Middle School in the Elkridge area.

The executive also has budgeted $1 million for a "rainy day" fund, which will be built up in future years so the county government can be "recession-proof," Mr. Ecker said.

The budget received mixed reviews from the council.

Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, noted that that "it is the Republicans who are proposing a tax increase," saying he was "not one to support a property tax increase." He also said he wants money shifted from the county government budget to beef up maintenance and instructional programs in the school system.

The two Republicans on the five-member council generally supported Mr. Ecker's proposal, but Councilman Darrel Drown, R-2nd, said he would work to trim back the property tax boost "a little bit."

Howard budget proposal

Highlights of Howard County's proposed operating budget for fiscal year 1992, which begins July 1. Hearings are scheduled at 7:30 p.m. April 23 and April 25 and at 9 a.m. April 27 at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. A vote on the budget is scheduled for May 23 before the County Council.

Tax rate.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. % change

$2.59 per $100 of assessed value.. .. Up 14 cents, or 5.7%

Total spending

$270.3 million .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. -5.6%

Spending highlights (in millions)

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. Proposed

Category.. .. .. .. .. .. fiscal '92.. .. .. .. % change

Schools.. .. .. .. .. .. .. 146.4.. .. .. .. .. -2.2

Public Safety.. .. .. .. .. 24.2.. .. .. .. .. .. -6

Recreation & Parks.. .. .. .. 4.9.. .. .. .. .. ..-18

Human services.. .. .. .. .. 14.9.. .. .. .. .. .-9.1

Public works.. .. .. .. .. . 23.4.. .. .. .. .. -12.5

General government.. .. .. . 20.5.. .. .. .. .. -14.4

Revenue sources (in millions)

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .Proposed

Category.. .. .. .. .. .. fiscal '92 %.. .. .. change

Property tax.. .. .. .. .. .. 135.6.. .. .. .. +13.5

Income tax.. .. .. .. .. .. .. 86.0.. .. .. .. . -1.9

State, federal aid.. .. .. .. . 2.9.. .. .. .. .+20.2

Source: Howard County budget office

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.