MOUNT AIRY — The Town Council faced an unenviable choice Monday: dredge more than$14,000 out of the town budget in the middle of a fiscal year or puta state trooper out on the street.
The council said it will find the money.
Town officials vowed to scour Mount Airy's budget to make up for money the state yanked last week in the latest round of budget cuts aimed at slowing Maryland's burgeoning fiscal disaster.
"We're going to give it our best stroke," Mayor Gerald R. Johnson Jr. said yesterday.
1st Sgt. Steven C. Reynolds of the state police attended Monday's meeting to brief the council and find out how the town wanted to deal with the latest shortfall.
"We're at the mercy of the stategovernment," Reynolds said. "There's really not a whole lot that canbe done."
Instead of having its own police force, the town contracts with the state police for four troopers who patrol Mount Airy. The town pays 75 percent of the cost and the state government contributes the rest.
The current contract -- which runs from July 1 to next June 30 -- is valued at $196,461, Reynolds said, with the town paying $147,345.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer's plan to cut $450 million from the state budget deficit starting Nov. 1 means Mount Airy will lose more than $22,000 of the state's $49,116 matching money.
Reynolds said pre-budgeted overtime and fuel costs in the contract could be controlled to save about $8,000. That leaves about $14,000 that the council will have to trim from the budget.
"We don't like to do it (juggle trooper schedules to reduce overtime) when we don't haveto," Reynolds said. "But when tough economic times come on you, you have to pull out all the stops to save as many bucks as you can."
Finding the money won't be easy, but the alternative was even less attractive to town administrators. Reynolds said another way to save the money is to cut one of the four troopers.
"If the town chose to reduce the contract by one position, that trooper would likely be unemployed," Reynolds said.
Said Johnson, "I think that was a decision that would've been very difficult to stand behind."
So the council decided to try to squeeze the money out of the budget, indicating it likely would come from cash set aside for capital projects, such as road repairs and new vehicles.
"That's about the only place we have to cut it," said Council President R. Delaine Hobbs.
Johnson called for a council statement to curtail all spending except that which "is necessary for the well-being of the town."
But some councilmembers didn't agree that such a broad gesture was necessary.
"I don't think we should just make a blanket policy statement tonight," said Councilman David Pyatt.
Reynolds said he simply sought a verbal assurance he could take back to state police administrators who are working to draft plans that satisfy orders to cut the budgets of a range of state police programs.
"That's pretty much all we needed," he said of the council's verbal commitment to pick up the rest of the town's police protection bill.
"Given the economy, the 25 percent state match might be in jeopardy next year," he said. "All of the (counties and municipalities) are going to have to buckle down and pay 100 percent of the policing that they have. It's going to cost moreto do business, and that's just a fact of life."