County Executive Eileen Rehrmann ordered department heads to trim 2 percent from their budgets last week as the first step in coping witha $6.4 million loss in state aid.
But she pledged not to use the power granted last week by the General Assembly and governor allowingcounty executives to cut teacher salaries and other school spending.
"We can manage this round of cuts," county administrator Larry Klimovitz said. "But we know another round is coming in December or January."
Rehrmann will consider how to use county money to offset the state cuts.
The county has more than $9.8 million in unreserved money left over from fiscal 1991, which ended June 30.
Rehrmann set aside $5.8 million of that money last month to guarantee payment ofcounty debts in the event of a further decrease in revenue. She designated the other $4 million to offset cuts in state aid.
"Our planis to have (departments) that have had direct hits to absorb as muchas possible," Klimovitz said.
"We're not going to go out and say,'OK, we have $6.4 million in hits, we're going to put a Band-Aid on it and write checks for $6.4 million," he said.
The 2 percent cut Rehrmann ordered will take a $2.8 million bite out of the county's $140.9 million operating budget. Only the self-supporting sewer and water funds are exempt.
Rehrmann predicted another $2 million cut in state aid by January.
But she defused a potential confrontation over a State House amendment to its budget bill last week giving local governments limited authority to specify Board of Education spending cuts, including salary reductions.
"If things deteriorate further,we will continue to cooperate with the Board of Education," Rehrmannsaid.
"I'm not looking for any union give-backs."
State law grants spending autonomy to school boards and other semi-independent agencies once a locality passes its annual budget.
As in Harford, school budgets statewide typically account for more than half of local government spending.
The budget amendment was sought by Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall to help his county adjust to the loss of $17 million in state aid.
The amendment exempted cuts in teacher jobs and instructional material and equipment. But it gave counties sweeping powers until the fiscal year ends June 30 to eliminateother jobs and support services.
The measure spurred a protest inAnnapolis Tuesday night joined by Harford school officials, parents and residents.
School board member Percy Williams warned that the amendment would allow "politicians" to undermine ambitious plans to improve education in favor of avoiding tax increases.
"When they start finding that (their children) can't find jobs and the jobs require better skills, parents will take a different look," he said.
Themeasure usurps the school system's ability to determine its priorities, said Christine Haggett, president of the Harford County EducationAssociation, which represents 1,500 teachers.
"What's the need for a local board of education if anything it decides can be negated bya county executive?" she asked.
Harford Parent-Teacher Association president Victoria Kornick worried that Rehrmann will be tempted tobalance future county deficits by impounding school money.
"We have have a pretty good rapport with our county executive, but when it comes down to the almighty dollar that rapport might not be as strongas it should be," Kornick said.
Klimovitz said Rehrmann intends to maintain that good rapport by making future spending cuts a mutual effort between the school board and the county.
"We're going to maintain that our first priority is to keep everybody working," he said.
But if further erosion of state aid forces the possibility of layoffs, neither Klimovitz nor Rehrmann would rule out cutting salariescountywide.
Department heads were ordered to report this week whether they would have to lay off workers, limit services or eliminate programs if the county doesn't replace state aid that was cut last week.
Harford Community College President Richard Pappas will propose adding between $6 and $13 to the $43 county students pay per credithour to offset a loss of $1.5 million, or 10 percent of his budget.
The county health department could lose 20 employees it if absorbsa $559,126 cut, which amounts to almost 15 percent of its budget.
With an $819,419 cut, county schools escaped relatively unscathed compared to other Baltimore-area systems that lost million of dollars in support for social security and pensions.
The school system has $307,000 left over from last year to help limit cuts in maintenance and equipment purchases and other adjustments School Superintendent Ray R. Keech will propose to the board next month.