As the County Council gets set for a final round of number-crunchingbefore adopting a budget, county department heads are braced for a lean year.
A sluggish economy and declining revenues have lowered expectations considerably -- and apparently thinned the ranks of the annual parade of citizens and others lobbying the council in budget hearings for a bigger share of the government purse.
In contrast to years past, when dozens of people turned out to plead for more county money in such specific budget areas as education,only 14 spoke at the second of two public hearings on the budget at Havre de Grace High School on Thursday night.
One after another, those who testified Thursday told the council they realized money is tight and said they were doing their best to keep requests to a bare minimum.
Larry Klimovitz, director of administration for County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann set the tone early in the public hearing, telling council members, "What you have before you tonight is admittedly a very, very tight budget. We are living within our means."
Rehrmann, in her $174.6 million proposed spending plan for day-to-day expenses for the budget year that begins July 1, has proposed paring overall spending 4 percent from last year's budget.
The first-term Democrat's budget includes no pay increases for county workers and would cut about $16 million from the school board's request, bringing the county's share of education spending to $72.7 million.
Property taxes would remain at $2.73 per $100 of assessed value in unincorporated areas and $2.34 for the county's three municipalities, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace.
Predictably, calls to restore the executive's cuts in the school board request once again dominated testimony Thursday night.
"I realize your job's not easy this year," saidChristine Haggett, who heads the county teachers union, the Harford County Education Association.
But Harford lags far behind both state and national averages in per-pupil spending, she said, and education of the county's youth would suffer without an infusion of additional money into the school board budget.
"Is it too much to ask to be average in school funding?" she asked. "Teachers are more and more frustrated by the lack of support."
But if cutbacks are inevitable, the council should place basics, like reducing the size of classes,above such desires as the request for more elementary art teachers, Churchville resident Elizabeth Bowman said.
"We desperately need some relief," she said. "I would say, 'Don't have the art teachers andinstead just give us some more regular teachers.' "