About 1,000 people, many carrying posters and helium balloons stating their cause, filled a high school auditorium last night to give the Baltimore County Council a little advice on what to do with County Executive Roger B. Hayden's proposed $1.136 billion budget.
The council, which is just beginning its review of Mr. Hayden's budget, was directed by some 72 speakers at Loch Raven High School to fund the education budget, take care of the parks, help volunteer firefighters and eliminate excessive spending.
Advocates for recreation spending arrived with white helium-filled balloons that featured U.S. flags and read "Rec and Parks."
Those who supported money for schools distributed lime-colored lapel stickers that read "Invest in Our Children." Others carried signs with slogans such as "Save the Kids."
"I am speaking for the future of our children. They are worth the money," said Celeste Stivers, a teacher at the Charlesmont Elementary School, who praised the physical education, music, art, health and computer programs available to students at the school.
In a voice cracked with emotion, Dr. Ellen Feifarek of Towson told how the special program at the White Oak School in Parkville was helping her autistic 5-year-old live at home while getting the help he needed.
"While his education is costly, I believe it's cost-effective," she said.
Private education would cost $30,000 to $60,000, she said.
John E. Heinz, a member of the Providence Volunteer Fire Company and a spokesman for the volunteer firemen's association, asked the council to retain the $2.1 million included in Mr. Hayden's budget to help the county's approximate 35 volunteer companies meet expenses.
Some companies are using equipment that is 25 years old, he said, and they need county money to supplement contributions so they can upgrade or replace equipment.
"It's safe equipment, but there comes a point when you have to either refurbish or decide to buy new merchandise," he said.
But many of last night's speakers were angry at what they termed the government's past excess and concerned about future spending.
The budget proposed April 16 would increase county spending by just under 2 percent and trim the tax rate 2 cents to $2.875 for each $100 of assessed value.
But the average tax bill on a $100,000 house still would increase by $28 to $1,147 because of rising assessments, and the annual sewer service charge also would rise from an average $126 to $143, county officials say.
Many taxpayers urged the council to set the tax rate at the constant yield level of $2.77 per $100 -- which would keep county revenues at current spending levels.
"The property taxpayer has been bled dry. There is no more money out there," said Isadore Moskowitz of Pikesville.
He suggested the council consider levying a $100-per-child fee on families with incomes of more than $35,000.
William J. Ritter, a member of Taxpayers for Government Efficiency, encouraged the council to look closely at the 400 county cars and the numerous car phones taken home by county employees each day.
John O'Neill, Sr., a retired Ruxton businessman and a tax protest leader who is a volunteer adviser to Councilman Donald Mason, D-7th, told the council that Mr. Hayden's proposed budget would add $7 million in new taxes.
Mr. O'Neill said that because of longevity and step increases built into employee contracts, the average county worker's pay would increase 4.4 percent next year.
He added that Mr. Hayden's budget didn't go far enough in trimming the 1,000 county jobs created over the past four years by the previous administration.
"During the election campaign last fall, it was stated that 200 political high-paying jobs could be eliminated," Mr. O'Neill said, referring to Mr. Hayden's campaign pledge to trim county spending. "This hasn't been accomplished."
The council is slated to adopt a final budget May 30.