Pratt, counties shudder at state aid cuts Schools, police, jobs are all endangered

October 11, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien Michael J. Clark, Sandra Crockett, Joel McCord and Deborah I. Greene of The Sun's metropolitan staff, contributed to this report.

County officials said yesterday that the deficit reduction package being considered in Annapolis will cut deeply into schools, libraries, road projects, police departments and government agencies across Maryland.

"It's going to be catastrophic. Everything that your average middle-class person needs, every service, is going to see cuts," said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties, which represents the state's 23 counties.

"This year's solution is going to have to be cuts in service," said Mr. Bliden. He predicted police protection and education would be hurt.

The latest round of cuts -- proposed late Wednesday as Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislators grappled with a $450 million budget deficit -- would slash some $68 million in state aid to Baltimore and the counties.

County officials say those cuts, which come on top of $115 million in reductions in local aid approved by the Board of Public works a week ago, may also force them to lay off workers. They said it was too early to know exactly what would be cut.

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden would not rule out laying off some of the county's 8,000 workers to compensate for the $10 million he expects to lose.

County school Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel called the cuts "big league trouble," saying they mean the 90,000-student system will lose $2,717,947 on top of the $439,000 from the Oct. 1 cuts.

The system imposed a hiring freeze in mid-September for all positions except teachers and instructional aides, but further reductions are inevitable if the cuts are approved, Mr. Dubel said.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker warned the County Council that the projected $5.4 million in state cuts would be "devastating," forcing layoffs, furloughs and service reductions. He said police and firefighters could be laid off.

Howard County already has laid off 28 employees, frozen hiring, trimmed 120 vacant positions and raised the property tax rate by 15 cents to $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

Julia W. Gouge, one of Carroll County's three commissioners, said vacant positions may remain unfilled, roads may not be cleared as quickly after snowstorms, libraries may close early and services to the elderly may be cut.

County officials generally said they have been taking steps since spring to save money in anticipation of state cuts, but few predicted they would be hit so hard.

"We were ready to swallow the first pill," said Louise Hayman, spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall. "But this next pill is going to be difficult. It is highly unlikely that we'll be able to sustain another $8 million in cuts without endangering services and personnel."

Anne Arundel County department heads last summer drafted a $10 million cost containment plan that would have allowed the county to cover the losses under the governor's earlier budget-cutting proposal. But the loss of another $8 million that is part of the plan unveiled Wednesday could result in layoffs or salary reductions, Ms. Hayman said.

Harford County officials saw the crunch coming and began belt-tightening in time to achieve a $9.8 million surplus at the end of the past fiscal year. But nearly half that money was in one-time savings, county Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said.

County officials complained that the round of cuts announced Wednesday is the latest of three blows they have had to endure, following a long recession that has slashed tax receipts and federal cuts that date back to the early 1980s.

State legislators "are just passing the buck to the local governments," said Howard County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd.

He and Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, said they would prefer a 1-cent increase in the sales tax to the cuts.

"It means we will have to cut the same services at the local level that the state legislators are unwilling to cut at the state level," Mr. Gray said.

County officials are not taking the cuts lying down. They are lobbying in Annapolis while developing contingency plans at home.

Mr. Ecker went to the state capital yesterday to urge legislators to vote against cutting aid to local governments, and four council members said they would follow his lead today.

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County gave out legislators' home phone numbers and encouraged their 5,700 members to call.

"If this goes through, you can forget about teacher pay raises, you can forget about small class sizes and you can forget about more computers in the classroom," said Raymond Suarez, a teacher at Hereford High School and union vice president.

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