Arundel budget lowers outlays Proposal marks first decrease in 25 years of charter.

May 01, 1991|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Evening Sun Staff

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall today was to present a predictably austere $616.6 million operating budget calling for no cost-of-living raises for any of the county's 3,000-plus employees and no tax increase.

As testament to the recession's effect on a county that saw boom growth during the 1980s, Neall's proposal also marks the first time in the 25 years of charter government in Anne Arundel that a budget has decreased from the previous year, he said. The budget this year was $617.4 million.

The proposed budget maintains the current property tax rate of $2.46 per $100 of assessed value, still the lowest of nearby suburban jurisdictions. Baltimore County's proposed tax rate for the fiscal year that begins July 1, for instance, is $2.875. Howard County's is $2.59.

Due to higher assessments, property tax revenues are expected to rise by $22.6 million, or 38 percent, in fiscal year 1992, Neall said. Income taxes will rise only $2.4 million, or 1.7 percent, he said.

"The property tax is the only revenue that held up," Neall said. "The property tax is the only thing that kept this budget afloat. I don't think that's something the property tax revolt people want to hear."

Neall said the county will have to work to reduce the property tax revenue, which makes up 38 percent of the county's total income. Anne Arundel was one of a few counties in the state that saw taxpayers organize last year to protest rapidly rising assessments and taxes on their homes.

"Tax relief will be a major priority in the next three years," Neall said. "If we had the tax cap right now [however], we'd be in deep yogurt."

Among other cost-saving measures, Neall froze hiring, capped payment for accrued leave for outgoing managers and instituted energy controls.

Neall basically reshuffled some existing vacant positions to create more positions for police officers and teachers. He cut 80 vacant spots to save $2.3 million, and created 80 jobs at a cost of $2.2 million.

Twenty-eight new police officer positions are included in the proposed budget.

The new county executive, who has been in office for 100 days, also proposed a capital plan for long-term projects of $95.6 million, almost 18 percent less than the current year's $116 million budget.

The largest portion of the capital budget, $30.3 million, would go toward water and wastewater projects. The first phase of a water treatment plant in Crofton is budgeted as well as the completion of the Galesville collection system.

Neall cut about $11.5 million from the county Board of Education request of $353.2 million. But the $341.7 million is still an increase of $11.6 million, or 3.5 percent, over this year, the largest departmental increase in the budget.

"The priority in this budget is to move education forward," Neall said.

School spending makes up 57.4 percent of county operating expenses, up from 55.4 percent this year.

Neall funded 35 new teaching positions next year, although the board had requested money for 64.5 positions to accommodate 1,500 new students expected this fall.

Also, the school system's controversial Integrated School Information System, or ISIS, a school system-wide computer network, was funded at $1 million, less than one-third of the board's requested $3.6 million.

Neall's proposed capital budget also includes money to renovate and expand the Center for Applied Technology South, a vocational-technical school in Edgewater, and to convert Lindale Junior High into North County High School.

The largest spending decrease in the budget, $11.1 million, is in pay-as-you-go spending, Neall said. Pay-as-you-go is a program enabling the county to hold down borrowing for its capital projects.

The county executive has a projected fund balance of $7.7 million in the current budget to carry into the 1992 budget.

Neall fully funded $95.5 million for the uniformed public safety positions in the police and fire departments and the detention center, including reducing from 52 to 50 hours the work week for firefighters and emergency medical services personnel.

The firefighters' union was the only one to endorse Neall in his campaign last fall. Neall termed "poppycock" a suggestion that firefighters' work week was being reduced as a political payback.

The council must approve a budget by June 1.

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