Arundel council backs updated county budget

December 03, 1991|By Elise Armacost

Anne Arundel Executive Robert R. Neall won his battle to reduce the county budget yesterday by making a promise he doesn't expect to have to keep.

The County Council unanimously approved Mr. Neall's revised fiscal 1992 budget, but only after the executive agreed in writing to restore $6.6 million in wage concessions if the county suffers no further cuts in state aid.

That possibility, Mr. Neall said, is akin "to the sun rising in the west. I don't have any doubt as to what the state's going to do."

Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to announce later this month another $190 million in state budget cuts. As a result of those cuts, Mr. Neall expects Anne Arundel to lose another $5 million in state aid.

Some council members were reluctant to approve the $598.5 million budget, reduced from $616.6 million, if there was a chance that wage concessions for 11,000 school and county workers could be avoided. They considered proposals by County Auditor Joseph H. Novotny to save workers' salaries by depleting the county's fund balance and contingency funds and by using money for pay-as-you-go capital projects.

School employees, who have been adamantly opposed to wage cuts, said Mr. Neall's letter is a victory for them.

"It changes the battle from here to the legislature," said Tom Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. School leaders from across the state are planning a rally in Annapolis Jan. 8, the start of the General Assembly's 1992 legislative session, to protest cuts in education funding.

Jo Ann Tollenger, president of the Anne Arundel school board, said the board plans to delay wage concessions for school employees until at least April, a move Mr. Neall called "very ill-advised."

Yesterday's council vote marked the culmination of a precedent-setting, often contentious battle over county spending. Of all the counties hit by cuts in state aid, Anne Arundel was the only one to reopen its entire budget process, which it was forced to do under County Charter. Executives in other jurisdictions were able simply to make cuts as they saw fit.

Mr. Neall, known for his fiscal prowess, moved to the forefront of the state budget crisis in October, when he asked the General Assembly for expanded powers to cut school budgets. That controversial move angered educators all over Maryland.

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