A visibly weary Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall sat in his fourth-floor office late last night and wondered aloud at the power of one piece of paper.
The piece of paper was a letter, addressed to the County Council and drafted earlier that evening, in which he agreed to restore $6.6 million in wage concessions for 11,000 county and school workers if the county suffers no further cuts in state aid.
For Neall, the letter was a means to an end, a compromise move in return for which the council -- reluctant to pit itself against county employees -- would approve his revised fiscal 1992 budget.
Some council members had been considering county auditor Joseph H. Novotny's proposal to avoid wage concessions by depleting the county's fund balance and contingency fund and raiding money for pay-as-you-go capital projects. After receiving the letter, however, they unanimously approved Neall's $598.5 million budget, reduced from $616.6 million.
The executive's promise is one that he expects never to have to keep. With the state facing an estimated $190 million deficit this year, the odds that there will be no further state cuts are about as great "as the sun rising in the west," Neall said.
But to the council and labor leaders, who have strongly opposed any wage concessions since the budget crisis began earlier this fall, the letter made Neall's budget something they could swallow.
"This will be a message that we are not balancing the budget on the employees' backs," said Councilman Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn. Tom Paolino, president of the 3,700-member Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said Neall's letter "changes the battle from here to the [state] legislature." Education leaders from across the state are planning a rally in Annapolis on Jan. 8, the start of the General Assembly's 1992 legislative session.
In the meantime, wage concessions for county workers outside the school system will go into effect immediately, Neall said.
Jo Ann Tollenger, president of the Anne Arundel school board, said the board plans to try to delay wage concessions for school employees until at least April, a move Neall called "very ill-advised."
Of all the counties that had reductions in state aid, Anne Arundel was the only one to absorb the cuts by reopening its entire budget process, as mandated by county law.