The debate over the budget in Harford County is again pittin new County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann against County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson, two strong-willed politicians who have been at loggerheads almost since Election Day.
Rehrmann, a first-term Democrat, has proposed giving the school system $2.8 million more for fiscal 1992, or about $16 million less than what the school board sought. She said her proposed allocation is necessary to avoid layoffs among county workers as well as a property tax increase. Rehrmann's budget includes no raises for any county workers.
Overall, her proposed county operating budget of $174.6 million represents a 4 percent drop in spending from this year. She also is seeking to increase the recordation tax and water and sewer users fees to fund the budget.
School officials say they must hire more than 90 new teachers to keep pace with increasing enrollments. They acknowledge that Rehrmann's proposal would not allow them to pay any of the 8 percent pay increase they had negotiated with 1,800 county teachers and all other school workers.
Meanwhile, Wilson, a Republican serving his first full term, is accusing Rehrmann of making an "end run" around the county charter by proposing to set aside a $6.3 million fund balance from the current budget that could be spent on schools or other needs.
The council, the school board and members of Rehrmann's administration began hashing over the schools budget at a work session yesterday.
Wilson says he wants to work with Rehrmann's administration, "but they are not interested in a shared process or cooperation."
Larry Klimovitz, county administrator, countered that it is not a question of cooperation. Because of a drop in revenue, little or no elbow room exists in Rehrmann's "bare-bones" budget, he said.
Rehrmann has said that the council does not have the authority to touch the $6.3 million she wants to reserve to protect the county's bond rating and for emergencies, such as a further economic downturn. Also, she has said that, if the council takes money from other departments to increase the school budget, county workers will be laid off as a result.
It remains to be seen how the Rehrmann-Wilson dispute will play out, or where the council might find more money for schools without forcing the executive to make good on her threat of layoffs. The council has until May 31 to pass a budget.
The school board, Superintendent Ray R. Keech and the teachers union have seemed surprisingly quiet in the face of Rehrmann's tight spending plan. At yesterday's work session, Wilson accused Keech of not fighting hard enough for more money.
Some council sources say that lack of a stronger protest is due to the teachers' and school board members' support of Rehrmann's election last fall.
"Our budget presentation has nothing to do with anyone's campaign," Keech countered. "We're advocates for youth, but we would also like to be a team player."
Other council members say they are looking at many needs of the school system, not just pay for teachers or other workers.
"We need to get beyond that and start looking at the serious needs within the school system," said Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C. She cited a lack of adequate supplies, major renovations to schools and other needs.