If you think the effects of the state budget cuts on Harford are badnow, just wait until next year.
That's the predominant reaction from county administrators who learned last week that Harford will lose a total of about $6.4 million in state aid this fiscal year as a result of a second round of state budget cuts.
"We're not going to write a check for $6.4 million," said Larry Klimovitz, director of administration, in assessing the situation Thursday.
"The challenge for Harford is not to do a quick fix. We've got to be looking to continuing to cut back. We don't want to be in a position where we've got nothing to fall back on."
Klimovitz said the financial agreement reached Wednesday by the governor and leadersof the General Assembly probably won't be enough to cover the seemingly ever-rising state deficit projections.
"These cuts cover about$450 million," said Klimovitz. "But the latest projection I've heardis that the deficit is already $466 million -- that means we're still $16 million short. I'm expecting more cuts in December or January. Probably December. It's bad."
County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann said that for individual departments and those agencies that receive state dollars funneled through the county, the expectation of continuing cuts means she won't be able to fill the gap created by the withdrawal of state support.
"We're not going to be able to pick up theentire amount cut from each department," Rehrmann said. "We won't beable to pick up the $1.4 million for Harford Community College or all the money cut from the Health Department."
She said she is developing a set of priorities to determine how much money the county can afford to spend and which departments and agencies should receive it.
In addition, Harford and other counties are being asked to contribute more money to the state's School for the Blind. Harford's share:$5,200.
"The federal government has stomped on the state, and thestate is dumping on the counties and local governments," said Rehrmann, explaining the domino effect of the cuts. "There are long-term, substantive fiscal issues developing here that people don't yet understand."
For example, in the second round of cuts, Harford lost the state's $741,960 contribution to teachers' and librarians' Social Security and pension costs.
"They're talking about capping Social Security and pension contributions, and once that happens, any year you add new teachers, you'll have to add those costs to your local budget, too," Rehrmann said.
But, she said, Harford is in better shape to handle cuts than other counties.
In preparing her $140 million operating budget this year, Rehrmann started out by asking county department chiefs to spend a total of $8 million less than they did the previous year.
She said that move, and a decision to leave a $6.3 million fund balance, which has risen to $9.8 million, will help Harford weather the budget-slashing storm.
Rehrmann and County Council members also have discussed raising the county's property tax assessment cap to 10 percent. That move would generate about $731,000 in newrevenue.
The trying financial situation began two weeks ago with the first round of state budget cuts, when Harford officials learned the county would lose $3,679,371 in state dollars.
Last week, Gov.William Donald Schaefer and leaders of the legislature announced that Harford would lose another $2.5 million.
CUTS IN STATE AID TO HARFORD
$2,511,835... Subdivision grants to keep property taxes*
189,000... .. County portion of shared taxes (tobacco, alcohol)
260,000... .. Property tax credits
11,000... ... Critical area grants to planning and zoning dept.
691,773... .. Money for local health programs*
394,000... .. Police aid
40,000... ... Fire/rescue/ambulance aid
96,000... ... Aid to education programs
1,456,000....Aid to Harford Community College
741,960... .. Contributions to teachers', librarians' Soc. Sec. and pensions**
5,200... ... .Increase in payments to Maryland School for the Blind**
* Includes second-round cuts
** New cuts/added expenditures as a result of state budget cuts