Council Oks Hiring Teachers, Bond Market Venture

June 02, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff writer

The County Council approved a $173.4 million operating budget this week that will give the Board of Education enough money to hire 114 new teachers and will send the county to the bond market to borrow morethan $13 million this fall.

The borrowed money will be used to pay for several building projects, including two new schools, and for capping a closed county landfill.

The budget doesn't provide any raises for county employees, but mid-year raises are a possibility if the county can build up a specialfund established by the council for that purpose.

The 1991-1992 budget will leave the county property tax rate unchanged at $2.73 per $100 of assessed value; council members passed a companion bill to the budget on that Tuesday. Residents living in the towns will continueto pay a lower county property tax, $2.34 per $100 of assessed value.

The amended budget, passed by a 6-1 vote Tuesday, takes effect July 1. It is about 4 percent less than the current $181.6 million operating budget. An anticipated drop in revenue -- attributed to a slowdown in building, a drop in state assistance and a decline in income tax proceeds -- accounts for the lean budget.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann included enough money in her budget proposal for the Board of Education to hire 84 new teachers next year. But council members decided to add money to the education budget for 30 additional teachers, including six art teachers and 15 teachers to reduce class sizes.

The council voted to increase the county's contribution to the Board of Education budget by $908,700 to a total of $73.6 million.The $908,700 was transferred to the education budget from a county landfill expansion project.

To obtain the additional money, county school Superintendent Ray R. Keech agreed verbally to spend it this way:

* $745,200 for 30 new teachers.

* $155,500 for special education to compensate for cuts in state contributions and to hire a special education coordinator.

* $8,000 to increase the substitute nurse salary by $30 a day.

The budget also includes $300,000 to be used as a seed fund to provide county employees mid-year raises. The $300,000 was found as a result of a computer glitch that miscalculatedthe amount of benefits part-time employees received. Council membersdiscovered the error when they found what appeared to be double entries in that budget category.

The county would need a total of $2.5million to provide the mid-year raises for county employees, including teachers and other Board of Education personnel. Larry Klimovitz, director of administration, said that if the county's financial situation improves and the county can add to the seed money, the employeescould receive mid-year pay raises.

One of the few cuts the council made in Rehrmann's proposed budget was $261,000 to build a recycling center near Aberdeen. The money for that project was to have come from an increase in the fee for filing legal documents, called the recordation tax. The council rejected that proposed fee hike and the project had to be cut to balance the budget.

The passed budget left intact Rehrmann's plan to borrow $13.2 million on the bond market thisfall. Council members initially balked at the departure from the pay-as-you-go budget trend set by former County Executive Habern W. Freeman, but made no mention of it Tuesday nightwhen voting.

One of the few points of contention was $6.3 million in the budget that Rehrmann left undesignated. The money, she said, is to act as a cash reserve to help protect the county's strong bond rating. The surplus will be carried on the books all year, unless the money is needed for emergencies.

Council President Jeffrey D.Wilson has maintained that such a fund is a violation of the County Charter. "It's dangerous votingagainst the budget because if the amended version failed, the budgetas submitted by the county executive would become law," said Wilson.His was the only vote against passage of the budget Tuesday. Among the other Rehrmann initiatives left intact in the budget:

* A $4 million expansion of the county detention center.

* A $2 million project to tap into Baltimore City's aqueduct, which runs through Harford parallel to Interstate 95, to increase the county's water sources.

* A $14.7 project to begin the expansion of the the county's Sod Run sewage treatment plant.

* Borrowing $4.5 million to pay the county's share of construction costs for Fallston Middle School.

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