For counties, 'It's like the Grinch stole Christmas'

December 11, 1991|By Dennis O'Brien Elise Armacost, Carol L. Bowers, Michael J. Clark, John W. Frece, Deborah I. Greene and Ginger Thompson of The Sun's staff contributed to this report.

The proposal to slash $142 million in state aid to Baltimore and Maryland's 23 counties hit many local officials like a sharp jab in the stomach yesterday, prompting some to gasp for a tax increase and others to warn of layoffs and reductions in services and salaries.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said he hoped legislators could persuade Gov. William Donald Schaefer to increase taxes. Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker warned of layoffs and cuts in the school budget. And Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall said the proposed cut may mean another pay reduction for 11,000 school and county employees.

"This is a pretty tough blow. I don't think that we ought to just accept this and walk away without complaining," Mr. Schmoke said.

Like most county executives, Harford's Eileen M. Rehrmann said she had expected a cut of about half that proposed yesterday.

"It's like the Grinch stole Christmas," she said. "The proposed cut is $5,045,562 -- Merry Christmas."

Officials in jurisdictions across the state said that although it is too soon to know exactly what they will cut, many agreed that cuts are inevitable without tax increases.

Baltimore

Mayor Schmoke said the $13 million cut to the city was about $7 million more than expected, and that Mr. Schaefer has told him to expect more cuts in the spring.

"There's no way we can get through this current problem and get through our long-term problems" without higher taxes, Mr. Schmoke said.

He said the city won't cut more from the fire or police department.

Mr. Schmoke said he had built in an extra $6 million in cuts during the last round, but that fell short.

"The local level is where services are delivered," said Mary Pat Clarke, president of the Baltimore City Council. "We should be the last place to get hit, not the first."

She joined the mayor, and most of the city's political leaders in urging state legislators to redistribute tax moneys and increase taxes.

Baltimore's budget and finance officials planned to work into the evening yesterday to prepare budget reduction options for Mr. Schmoke's consideration today. But they said any options would be bleak.

Baltimore County

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden said he hopes to work with the legislative delegation to reduce the proposed $23.5 million cut, and he hopes to avoid layoffs.

"We're just trying to wait and see how this comes out," he said.

"It's a very, very serious matter," County Administrator Merreen Kelly told the county council in a work session yesterday.

He said revenues from real estate transfer taxes and sales tax receipts have dropped by $15 million. The county has instituted an early retirement incentive package, trimmed 300 vacant positions, halved the number of take-home vehicles, delayed dozens of capital projects to avoid buying bonds and has cut highway snow removal expenses.

Anne Arundel County

Mr. Neall had expected to lose another $8 million to $10 million in state aid. But the county, which has already lost $17 million in state aid, would lose another $14.9 million under Mr. Schaefer's proposal.

Mr. Neall's latest $598.5 million budget is $18 million less than the original and includes $6.6 million in employee wage concessions.

He once thought this budget would fund county operations until June 30, but now he's not so sure.

"You almost have to take this day by day," he said.

Howard County

Howard County Executive Ecker, who could lose $8.2 million in state funds, said the county has "cut all we can" and that more cuts likely would mean layoffs.

The county operating costs have already have been pared from $286 million last fiscal year to $255.9 million because of loss of state aid and declining revenues, said county Budget Officer Raymond S. Wacks.

The county government, schools, library, community college and health department already have absorbed $8 million in state cuts.

Mr. Wacks said more cuts would have a major impact on schools.

Michael E. Hickey, the county school superintendent, said furloughs are likely "if cuts in education are more than a token amount."

Harford County

Mrs. Rehrmann said the proposed cut to an operating budget of $140.9 million is nearly double the $2 million to $3 million she had anticipated. "I've scheduled an emergency meeting with department chiefs for [this] morning," she said. "We've got to come up with savings so we don't get into layoffs."

The county has a surplus for fiscal '91 of $9.8 million. Mrs. Rehrmann has set aside $4 million of that to absorb cuts in state aid.

But she said she is reluctant to use more because she wants to preserve the county's bond rating.

Carroll County

Carroll County Management and Budget Director Steven D. Powell, said the county's $3.7 million budget cut would hurt employees and taxpayers.

"It's going to be tough," he said.

The county had anticipated additional state aid cuts and prepared by cutting supplies, travel expenses, services, equipment purchases, employee training, overtime, building and maintenance and other items.

But Mr. Powell said it may not be enough because the proposed cuts are "far more" than expected.

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