Arundel Was Ready For Aid Cuts

October 02, 1991|By Dianne Williams-Hayes and Paul Shread | Dianne Williams-Hayes and Paul Shread,Staff writers

News yesterday that Anne Arundel County could lose more than $10 million in state aid came as no surprise to county officials, who have been preparing for cuts since late August.

"Though Gov. (William Donald) Schaefer's announcement was not good news, we were ready for it," County Executive Robert R. Neall said in a statement yesterday. "The amount of the cuts is slightly larger than anticipated, but I believe we can come up with a plan that will allow us to continue to provide critical services."

Department directors have been working for more than a month to cut $10 million from the county's current $616.6 million budget, an average cut of 1.6 percent to each departmental budget.

Now they'll have to cut more. The county would lose $9.3 million in direct state aid, but Budget Director Dennis Parkinson has estimated that cuts in social services could bring the total to about $14 million.

The state Board of Public Works, chaired by Schaefer, has scheduled a vote on the plan today. The cuts would take effect Nov. 1.

Neall said he will meet with agencies that would be hardest hit by state cuts before finalizing his budget reduction plan by Nov. 1. Social service agencies and drug and alcohol treatment programs would be among those most affected by the cuts.

County Council Chairwoman Virginia Clagett, D-West River, said the county is in good condition to weather thecuts after several years of economic growth.

"It's too bad," Clagett said. "It reflects what's happening with the national economy. But we're sound. We can make these cuts in fine shape, without layoffs or cuts in services."

Anne Arundel Community College would be hit hard, said President Thomas E. Florestano. The college would lose $3.1 million in state aid -- 10 percent of the college's $30 million operating budget.

Florestano said the college might have to increase tuition, freeze hiring or charge more for nursing and computer programs. He said he expects to lose more state aid in January.

"We're going to have to look at doing some pretty radical things to suck up that $3.1 million," he said. "We can't just lay people off. We're labor-intensive."

County schools could be affected in several areas, officials said. The Board of Education is slated to vote today on a plan to cut $5.1 million from the board's $341 million budget.

But state cuts to school breakfast and lunch programs and a $1.25 million reduction in the county Health Department budget would mean additional losses for the school budget, School Budget Officer Jack White said.

County health department workers now provide physical and occupational therapy and assessments of seriously ill students attending school, services that could be eliminated.

In addition, White said school officials are worried about the fate of a prekindergarten program that serves approximately 400 students in 10 schools. The county receives about $400,000 from a state grant for the program, which includes the salaries of 20 teachers.

"Most likely, if the grant were pulled, then the program would be pulled," White said.

County police, who would lose $1.22 million, and fire officials, who would lose $97,000, say they don't know how the cuts will affect them. Police Chief Robert Russell met with Neall last week, but spokesman Officer V.Richard Molloy said they could not come up with specific programs tocut.

State Sen. Philip Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, said the county has been lucky to escape such budget-slashing before now. The county received an increase in state aid this year, from $158 million to $169million.

Jimeno said he wants to hear how the cuts will affect county government and if officials will support a tax increase to avoidthem.

"We could take it all out of aid to local subdivisions and keep our state police fully staffed," Jimeno said. "The question is are they ready to say publicly that they'll support a state revenue increase."

Staff writers Kris Antonelli and John A. Morris contributed to this story.

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