The Baltimore County Council tentatively agreed yesterday to cut County Executive Roger B. Hayden's proposed budget by $1.3 million, enough to shave another penny off the tax rate. They did it by juggling cost and revenue estimates.
The action means a new tax rate of $2.865, three cents lower than the current rate, to finance a $1.134 billion budget.
The council, which is to take a final vote on the budget May 30, increased the estimate of property taxes revenues to $381 million, roughly 4.4 percent more than the $365 million that budget analysts predicted would be raised by June 30 to cover this year's costs.
The members also cut roughly $400,000 from cost estimates for fuel oil, gas and electricity charges, and $300,000 from the $1.2 million budgeted for snow removal.
In previous years, the county did not budget money for snow removal, but approved periodic fund transfers from surplus to cover costs.
Based on a consultant's report, the council also agreed to increase estimates of income from the investment of the county's self-insurance fund by $600,000.
The council, elected last fall on a wave of property taxpayer protests, decided against making deeper cuts in cost estimates because of concern that it would hurt the county's bond rating and fear of the impact of a shortfall in state revenues.
Mr. Hayden told council members at a briefing yesterday morning that state income tax revenues earmarked for the county are expected to drop by $1.4 million next year because of the recession.
Although the tax rate will drop, the average tax bill for the owner of a $100,000 house will increase $24, to roughly $1,143, because of increased assessments.
In addition, homeowners will face an added $16.60 in annual sewer charges on next July's tax bill, and a wide range of fees, including the cost of building permits, library video rentals, parking fines and 911 telephone service will increase.
The county also increased by $1.4 million the annual franchise fee paid by Comcast Cable, the county's cable television company, despite warnings from Comcast officials that such an increase may force an increase in rates for the county's 155,000 subscribers.
The cuts drew a mild response from Mr. Hayden's office.
"Obviously we were comfortable with the numbers we presented, but given that they decided to make a cut, I think they made the best decisions they could have possibly made," Fred Homan, Mr. Hayden's budget director, said yesterday.
Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, said that the changes would be incorporated into the budget message he will write in the next few days and circulate to the six other council members in time for the May 30 vote.
He said the cuts, although minor in the face of a $1.134 billion budget, are intended as a signal.
"I think we have to send the message that we are concerned FTC with property taxes, that we are concerned with government spending and that we share those concerns with the county executive," Mr. Riley said.
The tentative agreement was reached after council members expressed frustration at their role in the budget process, which they say largely limits them to questioning department heads about increases without having any independent figures to justify cuts.
Councilman C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, D-3rd, argued for hiring more county auditors so the council can dig independently into the financial operations of county departments "to see where the fat is."