Auditor To Offer New Plan

Novotny Sees Way Around Wage Cuts

December 02, 1991|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

The county has enough money in pay-as-you-go capital projects and reserve funds to keep county employees from having to accept wage concessions, the County Council's auditor has determined.

County Auditor Joseph Novotny will present a plan to council members today that could save county and school workers wage concessions requested by County Executive Robert R. Neall.

The council is expected to approve a revised fiscal 1992 spendingplan when it meets this afternoon. Neall's proposed budget cuts county spending to cover a $20.8 million deficit and includes $6.1 million in wage concessions for 11,000 county and school employees.

Novotny's plan would use the county's $2.7 million surplus, $1.2 million contingency fund and $4.4 million in pay-as-you-go projects to stave off wage concessions for employees, which were approved by county unions and the Board of Education.

Pay-as-you-go are capital projectspaid for out of the operating budget, rather than by borrowing moneythrough the sale of bonds.

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, said she plans to support the plan.

"You should cut services before you get involved in cutting salaries," Lamb said. "If we cut salaries and (Neall's) predictions are wrong, and we end up with money inthe bank in May, it'll really be sad to have done that to employees.It looks like the money is there and I have a hard time, if the money's there, doing what we are doing to employees."

Lamb said salaries should be cut only if the state makes another round of cuts in local aid, as lawmakers are expected to do.

Most council members saidlast week they hadn't made up their minds on Novotny's proposal.

"I'm going to reserve judgment on any proposals until they are presented in public," said Councilwoman Diane Evans, R-Arnold.

But Neallcriticized Novotny's plan as short-sighted. "Frankly, the County Auditor's plan cashes in today and mortgages tomorrow, and that's not what I'm trying to implement here on the fourth floor," Neall said.

"I don't think pay-as-you-go is as disposable as (Novotny) thinks it it is," Neall said. "A lot of these are worthy projects that, if put off until the next fiscal year, will severely impact our capital projects plan. I'm trying to put together a plan that doesn't affect services. These projects mean jobs and money into the economy."

Neall said he wants to keep the surplus and contingency fund -- already at their lowest level in years -- to cover further cuts in state aid andemergencies.

Holding off on wage concessions until more state cuts are approved by the General Assembly in April will give the county only two months to absorb the reduction, meaning massive cuts in salaries.

o "If we wait until April, where's the money going to come from?" Neall said. "It's foolhardy."

Council members have had little time to deliberate on Neall's revised budget. After three public hearings and two meetings with county officials, the council had no time left last week to meet with Novotny to discuss changes to the budget, so several members met with him privately. Members also planned todiscuss the budget by phone over the weekend, uncertain about what changes, if any, they will make.

"It's a very small time frame and we're leaving it all to the end," said Council Chairwoman Virginia Clagett, D-West River. "We're winging it."

Neall's plan cuts county spending for fiscal 1992 from $616.6 million to $598.5 million, the first time in the 26-year history of charter government the county hasstruck a second budget for the same fiscal year.

The fiscal crisis has county officials, council members and school board members disagreeing about how much power each body has to change the revised budget.

Neall drew the ire of school officials when he restored a $1.8million cut the Board of Education had made in teaching materials. In public hearings on the budget, school officials said the board should decide how to spend the money, which was saved when the board joined the county's self-insurance program.

Neall made the cut becauseof a state law prohibiting county executives and councils from cutting teaching supplies. But school board members say the law doesn't apply to them, so the cut was legal.

Council members have yet to decide what they can do with the money, but say they probably won't giveit back to the board. School employees want the board to use the money to reduce furlough days.

"If we look at the intent of the law, it requires that that money not be touched," said Councilman David Boschert, D-Crownsville. "It is my intention to let it stay."

Boschert sponsored a bill council members approved last month giving them unprecedented power to change Neall's budget, although county attorneys said the council couldn't legally use its additional power. Union leaders wanted council members to pass the bill so the council could restore wage concessions.

Boschert's bill could become an issue today if members decide to make substantial changes to Neall's budget.

"We've spent seven days a week for two months going over the budgetwith a fine-toothed comb," Neall said. "Wholesale changes to my budget would be ill-advised."

Today's meeting will begin at 2 p.m. in the Arundel Center on Calvert Street in Annapolis.

Staff writer Elise Armacost contributed to this report.

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