Hayden's cuts hit agencies across the board Police, parks, libraries fade as requests must drop 6%.

December 23, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

Baltimore Countians will see more of their police cars parked instead of patrolling after July 1, when budgets at least 6 percent below this year's levels go into effect.

Preventive police patrols will be gone, officials say, and no recruits will be hired to fill vacancies as the politicians who won election with pledges of no new taxes live up to their campaign promises in a recession year.

Department chiefs say grass will not be mowed as often in county parks. Downed trees will be left for firewood scavengers; bulk trash pickups may require fees or be eliminated. The county's popular library system will buy fewer books, and the opening of a highly touted new drunken-driver prison may be delayed even further.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden has ordered department heads to submit fiscal 1993 budget requests at least 6.2 percent lower than this year's and warned that making do with less is likely to become a way of life, not a temporary belt-tightening.

The one exception, and the most significant, is the school system, where Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel says he is preparing a budget that will be lean -- but still higher than last year's -- to accommodate the "4,000 new customers we're going to have."

The school budget is approved by the school board before being submitted to the executive and County Council.

The county spends about 43 percent of its $1 billion budget on schools. Dubel says he will give his school board an "optimistic" budget proposal Jan. 23, one that includes $21 million in state education aid.

But he acknowledges that the General Assembly may cut education funding as it struggles with its own $700 million budget deficit.

Under the Hayden directive, county-financed supplements to state welfare payments of $10 to $25 a month would be cut, says social services Director Camille Wheeler, who warns, "These are very, very poor people."

Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan warns that the reduction means "we will have to reduce the size and functions of the agency."

Specifically, it will mean no new officers, no new cars and no preventive patrols, he says. Officers will do more walking and spend more time parked, responding mostly to calls instead of cruising their districts, to cut down on the 1 million miles a month county police cars now travel.

In addition, the department will disband its 11-member affirmative-action recruiting unit on Feb. 1 because it has ceased all recruiting.

Fire chief Elwood H. Banister says a second year of no new equipment will have "a severe impact on the department" because the reserve vehicle fleet is "vintage." Banister says he is considering other, "drastic measures" but cannot reveal them yet.

Recreation and Parks Director Wayne R. Harman says he already has five trucks up on blocks because he can't afford to repair them, and Public Works Director Gene Neff says he, too, will have to park or even sell street sweepers and other heavy equipment.

To cut his budget by $1 million, Harman says, he'll make all adult tTC programs -- such as basketball and softball -- self-supporting through user fees. He says he will have to eliminate summer programs for the handicapped, reduce grass mowing and cut swimming hours at public beaches, among other measures. If large trees in county parks fall during storms, they'll just be dragged off and left for firewood scavengers, he says.

While he's making these cuts, he says, his department has been deluged with calls for services that people have come to expect from his already largely volunteer agency.

"It's a lot of pressure. We're out there on the nerve endings," he says.

Library Director Charles Robinson says that, short of layoffs, he's left with little more to cut than funds for buying new books.

An absolute reduction in total county spending hasn't occurred in recent times, and the current fiscal 1992 budget, which is 1.25 percent greater than last year's, was hailed last spring as a model of efficiency.

"Next year's budget will be a prioritization of service reductions," said County Administrative Officer Merreen E. Kelly after he and Hayden emerged Thursday from a session with community college officials, who begged them not to cut more money from this year's budget.

"Just get us through this fiscal year without very much more," board Chairman John Kluttz repeated several times near the close of the unannounced meeting. "We can't lay off teachers in the middle of a course," another board member said.

But Hayden offered no assurances. He told them he has no control over dwindling resources.

"We're on the cutting edge of changes" that are signaling a different way of doing business for local governments, he declared.

Kelly said the 6.2 percent reduction may already be too little if the state winds up cutting even more aid to local government this spring.

He said some projects, such as the prison for drunken drivers in Owings Mills, may have to be put off even further. The prison, already delayed once for lack of money, now is scheduled to open in July 1992.

Department heads will submit budget requests to Hayden over the next few weeks. Hayden will study them and make his cuts, including cuts to the school budget, before submitting his spending plan to the County Council in mid-April. The council must act on the budget and set a new property tax rate by June 1.

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