The Baltimore County Council used its newly appointed library for the formal room's first official function: The council's most free-wheeling public discussion of possible budget-cutting held in recent years.
Ideas flowed fast and furious for three hours yesterday. They ranged from council Chairman Douglas B. Riley's contention that no significant cuts be made in County Executive Roger B. Hayden's proposed budget to a written proposal from councilman Donald T. Mason, who was absent, to cut it by up to $8 million, plus a little advice for city officials.
A loose consensus against making heavy cuts seemed to dominate among the six members present.
Veteran member Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, said two more cents could be cut from the property tax rate by cutting $1.3 million from various budgets and another $1.3 million from an unappropriated surplus of $10.8 million.
The county's tax rate is now $2.895 per $100 of assessed value. Hayden has proposed dropping it by two cents to $2.875, which would translate to an average $27 tax increase for county taxpayers due to rising property assessments. Mintz would drop the rate by two cents more, to $2.855.
Charles A. Dutch Ruppersburger, D-3rd, vigorously advocated hiring more county auditors and council staff to enable the council to dig more effectively into the operations of county departments to find more cuts. He insisted that if the council really wants to have a long-lasting effect on government spending, professional help in delving into complex, multimillion-dollar budgets is badly needed.
Mason, the Dundalk Democrat who has campaigned for 10 years to cut county spending, endorsed a list of possible cuts totaling about $8 million produced by his volunteer aide, John D. O'Neill, who led a tax protest in the county last year. Mason was absent to attend a family funeral.
He added in his written remarks that the county's contributions to cultural arts providers located in Baltimore, already down from $1.645 million this year to $1.463 million proposed by Hayden for next year, be reduced further.
In a note read by Riley, Mason suggested that instead of depending on the suburbs to support its cultural institutions, the city should save money on its own by getting private contractors to collect city trash and reduce the city payroll by attrition.
O'Neill, in a letter to the council, proposed cutting $1 million from the tuition the county is required to pay for private placements for severely handicapped special education students, $500,000 from money allotted for utility costs, $420,000 by eliminating 12 proposed new teaching positions and $500,000 from health insurance costs.
The council members also debated the equity of supporting Hayden's bid to raise the cable television franchise fee by $1.3 million -- roughly equal to one penny on the tax rate.
Ruppersberger also suggested that in the future that some county workers who work only 35 hours a week may have to work 40 hour weeks, a move that could save money by justifying elimination of up to 175 jobs.