Local officials see more tough calls When the state squeezes, city and counties feel left out in the cold.

October 02, 1991|By Jay Merwin | Jay Merwin,Evening Sun Staff Larry Carson, Monica Norton, Norris P. West, Michael A. Fletcher and Bruce Reid contributed to this story.

As city and county officials attempt to restore budgets crippled by reductions in state aid, many are preparing deep spending cuts.

Some metropolitan-area local governments had already cut their budgets and frozen hiring in the previous fiscal year. But none have announced layoffs so far.

The loss of aid to local governments is part of a $450 million budget-slashing plan that Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced.

In response, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke called yesterday for a special session of the General Assembly to come up with a better way of handling the state's fiscal woes.

"Without the session, we will balance the budget, but at the cost of increased human suffering," said Schmoke's spokesman, Clint Coleman.

The city's operating budget is $1.7 billion. Coleman said the city will lose more than $16 million in cuts slicing virtually across the board.

"Drug treatment money is gone," he said. "Rat rub-out money from the state is gone. There are drastic cuts in library aid, vocational education, health money, both for home nursing services and school nurses, are either drastically cut or gone."

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall had been preparing for budget cuts since August, when he asked his administration to draft a $10 million cost containment plan.

"Unfortunately until now we had no idea where the state cuts would occur," Neall said. Now that the cuts have come, he said, the administration will devise a plan "to mitigate the loss of direct state aid to some of the county's most critical organizations and programs."

Neall has made cost-cutting a priority since he took office last year. His $616.6 million 1992 spending plan marked the first time in 25 years of charter government that a budget had decreased from the previous year.

In Harford County, where County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann is expecting a surplus of nearly $10 million from fiscal 1991, officials are deciding how to cope with a loss of nearly $4 million in state aid. Rehrmann said she wants to see if county agencies can absorb some of the cuts before delving into the surplus.

According to a list supplied by Larry Klimovitz, county director of administration, state grants in lieu of property taxes would be cut by about $740,000, health department aid by nearly $700,000, and aid to the Sheriff's Department by nearly $400,000. Losses would also occur in grants to volunteer fire and rescue companies and educational programs.

The Baltimore County Council learned yesterday that the county will be hit with $17.5 million worth of direct state budget cuts, and $10.2 million of that must come from the county's $1 billion operating budget.

The rest, $7.4 million, will be cut from the $72 million budgets of the three county community colleges.

County administrative officer Merreen E. Kelly told the council that the administration of County Executive Roger B. Hayden has been preparing for the cuts for weeks, but has no firm plan yet. Hayden said yesterday that he would likely respond with budget cuts and spending of the county's $11 million surplus.

For other counties, Schaefer's announcement means gouging budgets that were already hobbled by economy measures when they were put together.

This is the second year of bleak budgeting for Howard County, where last year's budget shortfall reached $20 million. After wide-ranging cuts, the 1991 fiscal year ended with the budget $3 million in the red.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker said the state cuts could increase this year's budget deficit as high as $12 million, and that he would try to trim it with a 5 percent spending reduction. He also plans to consider refinancing county bonds at lower interest rates.

County Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks said it will be harder to cut spending this year because the county had to borrow $3 million from this year's budget to cover last year's deficit, and last year's cuts left less fat to carve.

Ecker said layoffs would happen only as "the last resort."

That's what they say in Carroll County, too. But no one seems sure yet how desperate the county will be after losing $2.2 million in state aid.

County commissioners ordered all county agencies to determine how cuts of 2 percent and 5 percent would affect their operations. On the basis of those impact statements, the commissioners will announce a plan Oct. 17 to make up for the loss.

Carroll's operating budget of $115 million is already 2 percent smaller than it was in the last fiscal year, according to Steve Powell, director of Management and Budget.

One of the cuts will fall on the state's 25 percent subsidy of the resident state trooper program, which makes up for Carroll's lack of a county police force.

Commissioner Donald Dell said the state will cut more than $300,000 from its resident trooper subsidy of about $665,000. The State Police in the resident trooper program will try to make up half of that loss, Dell said, by paying less overtime and patrolling fewer miles in the county.

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