Revision Was Long But Money-saving

Arundel Was Only County To Reconstitute Its Budget To Find Cuts

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

Of all the counties hit by cuts in state aid, Anne Arundel was the only one to absorb the cuts by redoing its entire budget process.

County officials say the method was time-consuming but worth the effort.

"I think it's the fairest way," said county Budget Officer Steve Welkos. "It's not just containing costs, it's opening the process to the County Council and the public."

The process is also thorough. The revised budget is 127 pages long and includes hundreds of lines of budget reductions.

The cuts range from a $40 cut in meal money for Public Works engineers to $13,000 saved by closing Quiet Waters Park on Mondays in winter and $100,000 cut from the proposed East-West Boulevard.

The county saved $20.8 million overall, including $6.1 million in wage concessions.

The County Council is expected to approve a revised fiscal 1992 budget today.

"We tried to scrape the barrel as much as possible," Welkos said. "There are some things that haven't been scraped, but we may have another round of cuts coming from the state."

If the state cuts another $5 million in aid to AnneArundel, Welkos said county officials are considering deleting 15 vacant police officer positions, among other cuts.

Welkos said the cuts will have some effect on services. For example, firefighter positions left vacant means that several fire engine companies will be staffed with three firefighters instead of the required four or five. That means more trucks may have to respond to emergencies to get the proper number of firefighters to the scene.

"That's not necessarily the most efficient thing," Welkos said.

Other cuts have come from simply deferring expenditures, like the purchase of three new ambulances for $180,000. "Eventually, those things are going to have to be funded," he said.

But much of the savings was achieved by tightening every category in every subdepartment of the county bureaucracy, including meals, travel, lodging, equipment, supplies, periodicals, training and meetings.

Welkos said each department chief was told to cut his or her department by roughly 2 percent. County Executive Robert R. Neall made few changes to his department chiefs' spending plans.

"He wanted to let department heads tell him where to cut to havethe least effect on services," Welkos said.

Does the exercise confirm the suspicions of taxpayers' groups, who have long held the county budget is awash in fat?

"Fat's in the eye of the beholder," Welkos said. "As painful as this recession is, this exercise makes us get down to the nitty-gritty and decide what our mission really is. Services would be a little bit better if we could use some of these funds, but I think the process overall helps government focus on what we really need to do."

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