Auditor Calls For $6.1 Million In Cuts To Neall Budget

May 29, 1991|By Samuel Goldreich | Samuel Goldreich,Staff writer

Anne Arundel would be a slightly less beautiful place if the County Council adopts a package of budget cuts that also takes special aim at the few initiatives sought by County Executive Robert R. Neall.

County Auditor Joseph Novotny recommended yesterday that the council cut almost $6.1 million (less than 1 percent) from Neall's proposed $616.6 million fiscal 1992 budget.

Novotny, who advises the council on the county budget, recommended that lawmakers all but eliminate beautification programs.

Assistant county auditor Ray Dearschs said other county departments have personnel to do the job of the landscape architect, who would cost the Department of Central Services $58,730 next year.

Elimination of the position would leave only program coordinator Anne Pace to manage upkeep of the brick Anne Arundel gateways that dot major highways leading into the county.

The auditor also proposed delaying construction of two new gateways, which are paid for almost entirely with private money.

"There's a serious question as to how much in donationswere going to get for the gateways," he said.

The auditor said the county could save $20,000 in maintenance by deferring the gateways,in addition to $203,000 in capital spending on various school and roadway beautification projects.

But the biggest cuts the auditor suggested could be the most controversial.

He advised cutting almost$1.2 million in overtime Neall wants to allow professional firefighters to cut their work week from 52 hours to 50 hours.

Every other county union was asked to delay contract talks until next year when the economy might allow a pay increase.

"In reality, this will be giving a select few people an increase of 6 percent," said Assistant County Auditor Lois Sowell. "The administration has showed them some favoritism by allowing them this additional benefit."

The shortenedwork week has been justified as a way to achieve parity between firefighters and their counterparts, who in most other localities work fewer hours.

But some council members and many volunteer firefighters have charged that the overtime pay is a political payback to the paid firefighters, whose union was alone in backing Neall's election.

Several council members yesterday tied their support for the overtime to defeat of Neall's bill to delay increasing pension benefits approved last year for volunteer firefighters.

"I'm very supportive of (Neall's overtime) proposal but only if (the $15,000 in pension money) is put back in the supplemental budget," said Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville. "It has nothing to do with politics. It has todo with equity."

Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn, agreed, saying helping both volunteer and paid firefighters is the only way"to keep peace and harmony between them."

Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, who has emerged as an ally of the Republican executive, said he expects the pension delay measure to fail, paving the wayfor approval of the overtime increase.

But even the amount of overtime was in question yesterday. The auditor recommended cutting almost $1.2 million for firefighters

and medical personnel, although the Office of the Budget said the shorter work week would cost only $975,000.

"Anything more than that is cutting into existing overtimeand running down personnel," said Frank Stokes, president of the firefighters.

Several council members said they expect to cut about 3cents from the property tax rate of $2.46 per $100 of assessed value, which Neall wants to maintain.

Novotny's recommendations would shave about 6 cents from the tax rate.

Other notable auditor's cutslikely to bring a protest when the administration responds to the council today include:

* $961,370 from Neall's office budget, including a new environmental and land use unit.

* $160,280 from the budget office, most of it from a new management analysis unit.

* $482,080 from the police department, including $240,000 for overtime.

Novotny also advised cutting $954,830 from the Board of Education's proposed $341.7 million budget, and almost $2.1 million from the independent sewer and water funds.

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