What Happened To $10 Million Surplus?

November 06, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Contrary to rumor, county officials say there is no secret $10 million slush fund in the government's bank account.

Throughout the budget crisis and especially at Monday night's County Council meeting, union leaders railed against County Executive Robert R. Neall for targeting their salaries when everyone knows he finished fiscal 1991 witha $10.4 million surplus.

That much is true. But what most people do not understand, says County Budget Officer Steve Welkos, is that most of that money -- $7.7million -- was used to help fund this year's budget. It already has been spent.

What remains is $2.7 million. That is the only unencumbered money Anne Arundel County has right now.

If times are desperate, why doesn't Neall use it to help cover his $20.8 million shortfall?

Legally, the county could use it, Welkos said. But practically, it would be unwise for Neall to leave Anne Arundel with no buffer in case of emergency. "$2.7 million is a very small amount to have in reserve in a $616 million budget," he said. "I don't think it's very healthy."

Not only that, but the fund balance, also called a "rainy day fund," is one of the main criteria used by bond-rating agenciesfor determining whether a jurisdiction is a safe investment. When the county goes to the bondmarket -- probably in early 1992 -- bond buyers might not want to invest if Anne Arundel has spent itself down tozero, Welkos said.

The county plans to leave the $2.7 million alone until June 30, 1992, when the fiscal year ends. That money then will be built into the fiscal 1993 budget.

If, when the fiscal year ends, the county finds it has other money that wasn't used besides the $2.7 million, that other money will become the new rainy day fund.

During the 1980s, the county found as much as $23 million extra atthe end of the fiscal year. Barring a miracle, Welkos said, Anne Arundel won't see that kind of excess cash again for a long time.

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