Auditor Hired By Teachers Finds Surplus

County Defends Right To Emergency Funds

November 24, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

An auditor hired by the county school teachers' union says the county could save as much as $14 million by cutting capital projects, dipping into emergency funds and changing revenue estimates.

But county officials say much of the money is spent or earmarked, and cutting it would leave the county without surplus funds for emergencies or further cuts in state aid.

The auditor, Robert Pellicoro, presented the plan to the County Council at a hearing Thursday night on County Executive Robert R. Neall's revised fiscal 1992 budget. The final hearing is 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Southern High School.

Neall has asked county and school employees to take $6.1 million in wage concessions, either through 3 percent wage cuts or five furlough days, to help cover a $20.8 million deficit.

Neall himself has taken an 11 percent cut and his top aideshave accepted 5 percent wage cuts. The Board of Education has imposed four furlough days on school employees over the objection of unions.

Pellicoro, representing the 3,900-member Teachers Association ofAnne Arundel County, told council members they could restore wage cuts by dipping into the county's $2.7 million surplus, $1.2 million contingency fund and $4.4 million in pay-as-you-go capital projects.

"Every stone should be overturned before you resort to wage concessions," Pellicoro said. "If the council wants to do the right thing, the wherewithal is there."

Pellicoro also said Neall underestimated income taxes and other revenues by $6.2 million. However, the County Charter forbids the council from changing Neall's revenue estimates.

County Budget Officer Steve Welkos said he disagreed with Pellicoro's estimates. Welkos said there are few projects left to cut from pay-as-you-go funds, and he said the surplus and contingency funds should be touched only in event of an emergency, because they are used topreserve the county's bond rating.

He also said the county may have to pay back $3 million in phone tax overcharges. The $2.7 million surplus, already at its lowest level in years, would be used to coverthat.

And just days after the council approves a revised budget on Dec. 2, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to announce another $175 million in state budget cuts, which county officials estimate would mean another $5 million hit here.

"To go to (the surplus andcontingency) at this point, when another round of cuts may be coming, would be foolish," Welkos said.

School officials also asked for control of $1.8 million saved when the Board of Education joined the county's self-insurance fund.

Neall plans to use the money to restore cuts the board made in textbooks and supplies.

School employees want the number of furlough days reduced.

"The board believes that it and it alone should make the decision," Superintendent Larry W.Lorton told the council.

About 100 teachers, parents and residents attended the hearing. Of the 20 who spoke, a few said they supported Neall, but most said they were worried that cuts would result in programs being terminated and teachers leaving.

"Our teachers and staff are worth much more than they are paid," said Bea Hogan, whose son needs special attention at West Meade Elementary.

"I'm afraid wemight lose them if we cut them."

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