Delegate Says County Lucky To Have Neall At The Helm

December 15, 1991|By JOHN C. GARY

1991 has been the most difficult year I can remember in my 10-year political career. For the first time since the creation of charter government in Anne Arundel County, both state and local governments faced major reduction in revenue forcing very difficult budget cuts in current operating budgets.

During the 1990 political campaign, Bob Neall told the voters of Anne Arundel County that his 12 years of experience as a legislator and a member of the House Appropriation Committee would help manage a $600 million budget during very difficult economic times.

He has led by example, demonstrating that he would not ask countyemployees to make any sacrifices that he and his managers were not willing to make.

The current year's problems must be put in perspective. The county and the state are dependent on one another to deliver services to the citizens. Approximately one-third of the state budget consists of "aid to local government." The state collects this money and returns it to the counties for such things as police protection, social services, aid to the elderly, with a large portion designated for education.

As a result of the recession, state revenues began to decrease at a rapid rate. The governor and the legislature decided to balance the state budget by reducing the amount of money returned to local government. The first round of cuts cost Anne Arundel County $10 million. The second round of cuts cost another $8 million, and we face another cut that could amount to as much as $15 million.

Bob Neall's budget experience and understanding of state governmentprepared him for what has proved to be a disastrous budget year.

First, he anticipated that the weak economy was going to force the state to make budget adjustments. His experience told him that the governor and legislature would take the easiest cuts possible. He was correct, and contrary to newspaper reports, he did not ask the state to take cuts from local government.

Instead, he braced himself for the obvious. Why would state legislators make hard, difficult cuts thatwould affect people when they could pass that responsibility on to local government?

Neall took the first $10 million out from the non-personnel portion of his operating budget, without causing adverse effects on county employees. The second round of cuts came approximately four months into the budget year and could have resulted in major layoffs of police, fire, and prison workers, as well as major reductions in social programs for the elderly and the very poor.

Faced with these additional cuts, Neall asked the General Assembly for the authority to review the entire county budget, including education. Hence the now-famous Neall Amendment.

It must be understood that thesecounty governments were faced with cuts that could cause layoffs to county employees. Do you lay off policemen and firemen or assistant principals?

Bob Neall asked the employee unions and the Board of Education how it wanted to deal with the loss of an additional $8 million.

Neall felt that layoffs would only cause greater hardships on families. Instead, he requested additional cuts from every departmentand asked that employees accept a 3 percent pay cut. These proposalswere controversial but sound policy. The employees agreed with his thinking, and ultimately, the County Council concurred.

Neall took a personal pay reduction of $5,000 and reduced his personal staff by eight managers. He eliminated non-essential hiring, many county cars,car phones, unnecessary travel expenses and credit cards.

He has made every attempt possible to keep all county workers employed so that services to the citizens can be maintained.

The state will again cut aid to local government, and Neall willagain be tested to the maximum of his management skills. County employees are fortunate that his skills have saved their jobs, but with the next round of cuts, hemay not be able to keep government jobs intact.

He is attempting to do everything possible to keep government working. Employee concessions along with Neall's frugal approach have kept the wheels of government turning, but our problems are not over yet. The county is facing another $10 million to $15 million in cuts for fiscal 1992.

I consider Anne Arundel County fortunate to have a leader of Neall's skills and experience during this unprecedented economic period. His performance during the first year of his term has been further proof that he is, indeed, the man for these times.

Editor's note: Republican Delegate John C. Gary represents District 33.

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