Fiscal Crisis: From Bad To Worse

As Health Department Staggers, General Assembly Deals Second Blow

October 13, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

ANNAPOLIS — The fallout of the governor's plan to reduce Maryland's deficit has swept through the Carroll Health Department, whose 325-member staff is expected to be thinned by about one-third by mid-January.

"Everything is sort of spinning around here," Deputy Director Larry L. Leitch said. "There are going to be some serious effects on many programs."

Just as the Health Department was sent reeling, the county suffered another blow Friday night when the General Assembly passed a plan cutting $2.14 million in state aid to Carroll, on top of the $2.2 million previously approved under the governor's plan.

The county commissioners must make about $4.3 million in cuts to balance the budget, reductions that could affect services and personnel, they say.

But it is premature to predict what services will be curtailed or eliminated and whether layoffs, furloughs or other employment concessionswill be necessary, they said Friday.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he believes the county can get by without layoffs, at least until January. State lawmakers were told more budget cuts -- possibly another $150 million -- may be required when the legislature convenes in January.

"It's difficult to come up with a comprehensive plan when the level and placement of cuts changes on a day-to-day basis," said Steven D. Powell, county budget director.

All six Carroll legislators voted in favor of the budget-reduction package, whichreduced aid to local governments by $68.3 million. The bill passed the House, 78-55, and the Senate, 28-19.

The governor is not expected to sign the bill until Thursday, giving legislators more time to soften the effect on local governments, possibly through some additional authority to raise revenue. The Senate rejected an amendment that would have allowed counties to put a one-time, 10 percent surcharge on income taxes for returns filed next year on 1991 income.

Delegate Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, said voting for the budget bill was "the lesser of two evils," comparing it with the alternative, an administration plan that severely cut several social programs for society's most needy.

"It's temporary, just for 1992," he said. "Hopefully by the 1993 budget, we'll do a better job finding where the fat can be trimmed. It hasn't been done here.

"There should be time for studies and audits so it can be based on real justification."

The bill was amended to provide local governments authority to cut budgets for public schools -- except classroom instruction and instruction materials -- and community colleges and libraries.

Previously, counties could not legally require those agencies to return appropriations.

Dell said allowing some authority to cut certain areas of schools could help "in a critical time like this." But before making any mandated cuts, he said, he wants to see how the school board responds.

"Now we have a good relationship," he said. "I wouldn't want to do anything to upset it, even with this bill."

The commissioners requested that each agency receiving county money submit plans reducing their budgets by both 2 percent and 5 percent after the initial $2.2 million in cuts was announced.

Powell said it now appears that reductions closer to 5 percent will be required to balance the budget because of the latest cuts.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy saidthat of five agencies responding thus far, three directors were hard-pressed to come up with 2 percent in cuts without trimming payroll.

"We haven't had the directors' lists of cuts long enough" to decide which areas of the budget should be trimmed, Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said.

The commissioners said they probably wouldn't make across-the-board cuts but instead would rank all the cuts submitted by priority.

Public schools make up about 50 percent of the county's adopted $115 million fiscal 1992 operating budget. A 5 percent reduction in county money translates to nearly $3 million in education cuts.

Educators have agreed to search for savings but say they will hold off until after a special Oct. 30 school board meeting, when they should know more specifically the state cuts' effects.

The state's attorney's office has declined to submit a reduction, partly because of increased costs necessary to handle current murder cases, Powell said.

The commissioners attended a legislative hearing here Friday,along with elected officials, social activists, state troopers and citizens from across the state, to voice concern about the cuts to local jurisdictions. But the commissioners' pleas to House and Senate budget committees to allow more time for input before making crucial decisions weren't heeded.

"We have taken our hits," said Lippy, stressing that Carroll's budget has been reduced by 3 percent over the previous year and its work force trimmed by 7 percent.

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