You must forgive my naivete, but I become more perplexed with each article I read and with each passing day.
About a year ago, every politician and political hopeful was traversing the county predicting the "gloom and doom" of the impending recession. Everyone had a plan on how to overcome this fatal condition. The cries ranged from "better management" to "tight-fisted control."
The election came and the people made their choices, expecting the politicians to keep their promises and guide our ship through the troubled waters of decreasing revenues.
Well, the first shot was fired with the statement: "All bets are off because of hard economic times." What a revelation! Isn't that exactly what the campaign was allabout? Well, forget that campaign promise.
Consider another campaign promise: "I can get better people to work for less. The Lighthizer administration has too many high-priced administrators." Well, one of the first bills presented to the County Council asked for authorization to hire new administrators at 135 percent of the current countyrate. The reason? You need to spend more money to attract good people. Cancel campaign promise No. 2!
During the campaign, the tax revolt was in full bloom. The range of promises varied from maintaining a minimum spending level to doing something dramatic to reduce taxes.
A significant piece of legislation was passed by the state to allow each county to establish the assessment percentage increase on real estate. This was a chance to control the effect of spiraling inflation, a chance to hold the line on taxes for all property owners. The maximum increase allowed by state law is 10 percent; the minimum, zero. The Neall administration opted for the 10 percent level, the only major county to do so. Goodbye promise No. 3!
It was said that theLighthizer administration and the previous council were wasting taxpayers' dollars by buying big, expensive buildings on Riva Road -- buildings with huge mahogany doors and brass doorknobs. A waste of moneythat could well be spent elsewhere.
Well, guess what was the No. 1 priority of the new administration? Spending $11.5 million on additional buildings on Riva Road. Now, there is more vacant space in county-owned buildings than anywhere else. Wave goodbye to promise No. 4!
I believe the biggest disappointment was allowing the citizens ofthe county to believe the state was going to "help us out" because of the friendship that was made over the years. All along the governorwas telling everyone that a major state deficit existed and local jurisdictions would have to fend for themselves. Well, the county will not get approximately $17 million dollars it anticipated from the state. A directive was sent to all department heads: "Cut expenses by 1.6 percent."
The worst cuts are the wrong cuts. Most of the time the easiest cuts are the wrong cuts. Before budgets can be trimmed, an in-depth review must be made to make sure that the cuts are not arbitrary.
The final insult to our intelligence is the current budget. Much was said about the fact that this budget was actually reduced from the previous one. A miracle, right? How could thishappen? Let's take a look.
More than $20 million of last year's budget was pay-go-dollars. What is pay-go? They are time expenses paid in cash (cash that this year was not earmarked for anything specific unless it is decided at a later time to spend this money.) Expenditures from last year's budget, such as a new police academy class, were postponed to this year. These dollars were then included in the new budget. Fire equipment purchases were put off and the money was spent in this year's budget. Hiring freezes, except for administration positions, put on hold and transferred to the new budget. Etc., etc., etc.
What does all this mean? In reality, the budget should have been decreased by $10 million to $20 million, not left at the same level as the previous year. To aggravate the situation, every possible fee was increased for every service in the county.
Especially significant were the increased fees for all permits, utility connection charges, water and sewer charges and grading permits, thereby causing the average price ofa new home to increase by $2,000 and $3,000. I guess it's not significant when the house is $200,000, $300,000 or $400,000. But it is significantwhen the increase makes the difference between being able to afford a house or not.
Many opportunities have presented themselves to relieve the pressure on taxpayers. None were acceptable. Committees were formed to research avenues to take the burden off the taxpayer. Maybe these committees can review laws and make recommendations to put these laws into action. At least it would give immediate tax relief while they search for the elusive answer.
Well, I believe theNeall administration has found out that the "learning curve" is a powerful master. County government should be active, not reactive. The state is a good friend but, unfortunately, a "money-poor" friend.
Mr. Neall, sharpen your management skills and fine-tune your knowledge of daily county operations before the demands of the future weigh down your ability. Go back to the citizens of the county and keep yourpromises.
Editor's note: Linthicum Democrat Theodore J. Sophocleus, was a county councilor and an unsuccessful candidate for county executive last year.