Aid Cut Shocks County

Schaefer Tells Ecker To Trim Budget More

December 11, 1991|By Michael James and Erik Nelson | Michael James and Erik Nelson,Staff writers

County leaders responded with shock and anger to Gov. William DonaldSchaefer's latest round of budget cuts, which could cost Howard County $8.2 million -- and very possibly some jobs.

"This is unthinkable. We're going to have to make some deep, deep cuts in services," said County Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray. "More furloughs, and possibly layoffs, will have to be considered."

Most of the governor's budget-reduction plan, which calls for a $142.5 million reduction in state aid to local governments, must stillbe approved by the General Assembly. County officials say that if nomodifications are made, they will be forced to make layoffs.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker was informed of the budget cuts yesterday in an Annapolis meeting with the governor. Ecker said he had been expecting a cut of perhaps $1 million.

"It sure was a surprise," Ecker said. "I'm hoping the legislature will modify the $8.2 million. If they don't, that'll mean layoffs."

Ecker said he and other county executives offered to work with the governor's staff in creating a"long-range plan" to reduce costs. But the governor, while still considering the idea, is "very committed" to his proposed budget reduction plan, Ecker said.

A round of state budget cuts just three weeksago left the county's operating budget at $255.9 million, down from $286 million in the last fiscal year. That cutback prompted Ecker to impose five-day furloughs on all county employees.

It is unclear how another $8.2 million would be pared from the budget, said Ecker, who said he does not wish to increase property taxes.

Superintendent of Schools Michael E. Hickey, however, said "some kind of tax increase has to take place" in order to avoid furloughs to county educators.

As of noon yesterday, Hickey ordered a freeze on all Departmentof Education purchase orders for new supplies. "Until we can sort this out, that will remain in effect," he said.

Lt. Alvin J.T. Zumbrun, head of the county police research and planning division, said police have already cut back operating expenses 15 percent.

"If there are any more cuts, it would have to be personnel," he said. "I can't imagine how we could get around layoffs. We can't impose any more furlough days. Our people wouldn't support it, nor could they afford it. It would be chaos."

The county's best defense against the proposed cuts may come from the legislature, which many feel will not force Maryland counties to bear the brunt of cuts.

Delegate Robert Kittleman, R-14B, said he doubted that the cuts would be accepted by theGeneral Assembly. Legislators, he said, will likely strip a higher percentage from state agencies and programs.

"I think the legislature is pretty protective of the counties," he said. "They feel a much stronger tie to local government" than the governor does.

Sen. Thomas Yeager, D-13, said a tax increase could not solve the problem.

"There's no way you can do it because the taxes would have to be started right now and because we're not in session. I don't think taxes are a viable alternative just because of the timing."

Sen. Christopher McCabe, R-14, said the legislature should look at state agencies' "big-ticket items" and programs. "Maybe the usefulness is no longerthere. I'm not at all sure that has been done," he said.

DelegateMartin Madden, R-13B, also opposed the cuts, saying that Howard County bears more than its share of the cuts.

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