Port agency projects deficit of $5.5 million

July 11, 1991|By John H. Gormley Jr.

The Maryland Port Administration expects to incur a deficit of $5.5 million in the current fiscal year, an amount almost six times greater than the estimate given the state legislature in February.

Adrian W. Teel, who took over as executive director of the port agency at the end of last month, said yesterday that he was taken aback when he learned during his first week in office of the magnitude of the deficit projections for the fiscal year that ends June 30, 1992.

"Certainly I was surprised by the size [of the deficit] as I walked through the door," he said. "It implies I have a large job in front of me."

When port officials testified before a House subcommittee in February, they estimated that the port would end fiscal year 1992 almost $2 million in the red. When port officials returned to Annapolis to testify before a Senate budget subcommittee later that month, the deficit projection had been reduced to $944,000.

The MPA's executive director at the time, Brendan W. "Bud" O'Malley, told the senators that the port's business seemed to be rebounding from a disastrous 1990.

But the port administration has since come up with a much less promising outlook for the next four quarters.

Mr. Teel has repeatedly stated that his principal goal is to get the port agency back on an even keel financially.

The new budget projections underscore, he said, the urgent need to reduce costs without reducing the service levels to the port's customers. That could mean layoffs. "Certainly I've got to take a look at personnel. That's a given," he said.

Delegate Timothy F. Maloney, D-Prince George's, chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee with oversight responsibility for the port, blamed the burgeoning deficit estimates on the same economic doldrums slowing ports on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

"This is not a problem peculiar to the port of Baltimore," Delegate Maloney said. But he warned that the legislature will demand quick and forceful action to reduce the deficit.

"Clearly, this will not be an acceptable deficit level for the General Assembly," he said. He said there is a need for scrutiny of the MPA's spending, prices and subsidies.

Even before the deficit projections skyrocketed, the legislature and Maryland Transportation Secretary O. James Lighthizer had agreed on the need to reduce the size of the port agency. "We clearly need a leaner operation," Mr. Maloney said.

State Sen. Julian Lapides, D-Baltimore, was much more critical of the port administration and its leadership. "I think the port is in a crisis situation," he said.

While Mr. Teel bears no responsibility for creating the deficit, Mr. Lapides expressed doubts that Mr. Teel is the man to solve the port's problems because of his lack of experience in the maritime industry.

Taking up the metaphor of the port as the engine of the state's economy, Senator Lapides said, "The engine is certainly running down. I think we need a new engineer."

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