Local officials scramble to meet loss of Md. aid

October 02, 1991|By Joel McCord

Baltimore's mayor called for new state taxes yesterday while elected officials in surrounding counties vowed to cut more from their budgets, as metropolitan government leaders scrambled to cope with the loss of millions of dollars in state aid.

Mostly, the leaders told department heads to chop travel expenses and put off equipment purchases. And whatever you do, they warned, don't suggest layoffs or raising taxes.

"We laid off 40 people last spring and reduced our work force by a total of 160 positions," complained Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "A month ago, we started freezing more vacant positions."

Mr. Ecker, who cut Howard's budget by 12 percent this fiscal year, told his department heads to find 5 percent more to cut from their budgets. He also suggested refinancing county bonds at lower interest rates.

In Baltimore County, Executive Roger B. Hayden expects to draft a budget-cutting plan by the end of the week, said spokeswoman Carol Hirschburg.

In Harford County, where government employees were denied annual raises and cost-of-living increases this year in an attempt to avoid layoffs, Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said that raising property taxes would be her last resort.

But Harford doesn't impose utility taxes as other counties do, she added, suggesting she was looking at such taxes as new sources of revenue.

Carroll County commissioners told their staffs to prepare new spending plans cutting their budgets between 2 percent and 5 percent without any layoffs. But in some departments, "the budget is almost all salaries and we're pretty much at the end of our rope," fretted Commissioner Donald Dell.

Meanwhile, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said the General Assembly should be called into emergency session to enact new taxes to avoid massive budget cuts.

The city would be hurt disproportionately by budget cuts, he said, because it is home to more than half the state's poor, who depend on government services. And Baltimore could not possibly make up the loss of state revenue by raising a property tax that is already more than twice that of the next highest jurisdiction in Maryland.

"It would put us in a worse position if the city tries to close the gap ourselves," Mr. Schmoke said. "We can't raise taxes to cover this locally."

Officials in other jurisdictions said they were looking for ways to narrow the gap in services created by state budget cuts and reduce spending.

Four drug-treatment programs in Anne Arundel County will lose their state funding under Gov. William Donald Schaefer's budget cuts. "Can we make that up?" asked Louise Hayman, spokeswoman for County Executive Robert R. Neall. "In time, we'll figure out what the total price tag is going to be, then we'll figure out what we can save."

In August, Mr. Neall's administration began drafting a $10 million cost-containment plan in anticipation of cuts in state aid. But the cuts were larger than anticipated and came in unexpected areas, Mr. Neall said in a statement released yesterday.

"Now that we have a better idea of the specifics, we can finalize our plan and begin to work to mitigate the loss of direct state aid to some of the county's most critical organizations and programs," he said.

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