Spending Panel Suggests 1.4% Cap

Neall Says Budget Increase Ceiling Of $8.6 Million Is A 'Tough Target'

February 09, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff writer

An advisory group has told County Executive Robert R. Neall not to increase his budget by more than 1.4 percent, a cap Neall called "restrictive."

The Spending Affordability Committee said in its second annual report issued Friday that the county should limit its operating budget to $607 million, an increase of $8.6 million over current spending.

Bennett H. Shaver, committee chairman, said the cap is based on the personal income of county residents and the percentage of their incomes that the committee agreed should go toward county government.

Shaver said state and private firms estimate that personal income will increase in the year beginning July 1 by 2.8 percent, from a total of $10.37 billion to $10.67 billion for all Anne Arundel residents.The committee also agreed that taxpayers should continue to spend 5.69 percent of their income for county government, he said.

Neall said yesterday that the recommended cap on spending may be too restrictive.

"That's going to be a very tough target to meet," he said.

Neall has told county employees that he intends to reinstate in July the 3 percent wage cut he implemented last fall in the wake of the state budget cuts.

Steven E. Welkos, county budget director, said that move alone will cost the county $6 million.

Pay increases built into contracts of some of the county's 4,000 government employees and 7,000 school workers will cost another $3.7 million, he said. Every 1 percent cost-of-living increase would cost another $4 million, Welkos said.

Shaver, the former executive director of the state retirement agency, said the committee was not set up to determine how much to cut from the county budget or whether the county should reduce its reliance on the property tax.

"The issue before us was how much pie should be there, not how it should be cut," said Robert C. Douglas, a committee member.

Shaver said the group will issue an updated report in May, when better figures are available on personal income.

But he said the 1.4 percent budget increase is small because that is all taxpayers can afford.

"It is bleak for everyone. I thinkit's bleak because we're in such a deep recession," he said. "We don't see things as very rosy right now, and we don't see them getting any better in another three months or so."

Neall said he will weighthat advice when he comes up with his budget recommendations in the weeks ahead.

"I view this as a point of view, a very important point of view because it's based on what the economy is doing. And $607 million indicates to me that the economy can't afford much," he said.

His decisions will have to strike a balance between taxpayer groups, which called the recommendations too generous, and public workers, who said such limits would cripple services.

Tom Paolino, president of the 3,900-member Anne Arundel County Teachers Union, called the committee's proposal "unrealistic."

He noted that the 66,000-pupil school system is expecting 2,700 more students next year, which will require 90 to 108 new teachers if class sizes are to be kept down.

"You need to adjust for inflation, and you can't have the same level of service for less money," he said.

But Robert C. Schaeffer, president of the Anne Arundel County Taxpayers Association, said the committee should recommend cutting $10 million out of this year's budget.

He said that could be accomplished by cutting Board of Education costs, reducing pensions and benefits, and slashing positions throughout the government.

"We don't need the size of the government that we have now," he said.

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