Compared to the money woes other metropolitan area counties are suffering, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden appeared the money magician when he unveiled his budget to the County Council.
It wasn't sleight of hand, however, but an old-fashioned housecleaning and rearrangement of the proverbial furniture that achieved his desired result. Hayden cut every vacant position he could find, and put all his savings and his meager revenue increases into education.
In a county with nearly 700,000 residents, growing urban problems, 4,000 new school children and nearly flat revenues, he managed to hire 220 new teachers, avoid layoffs and still propose a cut in the $2.895 property tax rate of 2 cents.
The average county taxpayer next year will still pay $27 more in property taxes, plus an added $16.63 in annual sewer charges on this July's tax bill.
He saved millions by denying across-the-board pay raises to the county's 20,000 employees, and avoided serious criticism from county unions. He won praise for his efforts from council members and department heads. Each 1 percent pay increase costs the county roughly $6 million per year.
Hayden even managed to score some points yesterday with the county's legislative contingent by inviting them to a pre-budget speech breakfast where he shared with them highlights of his then-secret proposal. Hayden made sure to tell them he had paid for the breakfast with his own personal money.
For starters, to craft a tight 1.25 percent, $10.6 million spending increase, the freshman county executive cut 236 vacant jobs from existing rolls.
Public Works alone would lose 53 positions, mainly highway workers' jobs. Public Works Director Gene Neff said that if he doesn't lose many more people to turnover, he will still have enough workers to plow snow in winter, fix potholes, resurface roads and maintain sewers in summer and collect leaves and Christmas trees in fall.
The county health department lost 27 jobs, mostly vacant public health nurses' positions. Libraries lost 36 jobs and central services and law lost a combined 25. Despite the cuts, the county will carry 96 more jobs next year than this, if the council doesn't cut more.
Even with the new teaching jobs, the school board got only half the $51 million in increased education spending it requested. Still, school Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel backed the budget of Hayden, a former school board president.
"We have an absolutely mutual goal," Dubel said of the emphasis on classroom spending. Hayden did provide money for school supplies and textbooks.
Dubel acknowledged that the lack of pay raises for teachers was "particularly painful" because of meager raises granted in past years. The teachers had negotiated a 3 percent raise with the school board for next year but now they won't receive that.
Of the $25.4 million Dubel did get of his requested increase, $6.4 million would pay for the new jobs; $6.2 million would fund a full year of last year's pay raise, which was only implemented half the year; $4.8 million would pay for salary increments for longevity; $2.2 million would pay higher health insurance costs; $3 million would be used to send emotionally troubled youths out of state to school, and $2.8 million would go to various other things.
Hayden's distribution of resources, especially toward education, came at other county departments' expense.
Education gained 239 positions, plus another 45 new jobs for community colleges, which also have increasing enrollments. That makes a total of 284 new education jobs out of a total 332 new positions for all of county government.
Hayden accomplished savings in other ways too. The county is moving to a self-insurance system for health coverage -- a move that would not hurt benefits, but would produce savings from annual health insurance price increases.
Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister said he will not get $2 million worth of new trucks and equipment he wanted and must cut overtime pay. He will cut overtime, he said, by not calling off-duty firefighters to work when the total number of firefighters available for duty countywide falls below the minimum number due to sickness or vacation.
What he will do, instead, he said, is take a fire engine out of service and distribute the crew to other, undermanned engines to prevent overtime. The changes would not reduce fire safety, he said.
A proposed $20 million fire academy, maintenance facility and station at Sparrows Point was also left out of the capital budget, because the county still hasn't taken possession of the 26 acres of Bethlehem Steel land slated for the complex.
Hayden cut Sheriff Norman Pepersack's budget request for 33 new corrections guards to five for the crowded county detention centers. Pepersack said the detention center needed the additional guards as far back as two years ago and needs them even more now that a court decision has forced him to take prisoners no longer allowed to remain for extended periods in police station lockups.
Hayden did add $229,000 to the Department of the Environment and Resource Management, despite rumors that he might cut that budget and added $2 million for fire protection and $1.6 million for police, though adding no new firefighters or police officers.
He removed $1.6 million from public works, $921,000 from community development, $439,000 from the budget office, $200,000 from the contingency reserve, $1.3 million from health, $650,000 from the sheriff, $221,000 from the administrative office and $241,000 from the Department of Finance.