Budget Work Begins On Uncertain Ground

March 08, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

County department heads begin submitting budgets for fiscal 1993 this week -- a process that will be especially difficult because of the state's uncertain financial situation.

The county still doesn't know how much more state aid it will lose this fiscal year, much less how much help from the state it can expect to get for the fiscal year that begins July 1, said Louise Hayman, press secretary for County Executive Robert R. Neall.

"It's still up in the air," she said.

The county already has lost $12 million of $150 million in state aid for its current year general fund budget, plus money for the community college and libraries.It is expected to lose at least $9 million more.

Based on that, Neall expects a drastic reduction in state aid next year, Hayman said.

"He figures $23 to $25 million less in state money than what we have received this year," she said.

Despite the losses in state aid, the fiscal 1993 budget picture should be slightly better than the current year's, said County Budget Officer Steve Welkos.

After absorbing the state cuts and reducing employee wages by 3 percent, the current budget stands at $598.5 million.

"We don't expect to come inany lower than that," Welkos said. "We don't anticipate things beingquite that bad."

Some $6 million in employee wage concessions -- which Neall promised would be restored -- must be added into the budget before any money is allocated, Welkos said.

The education budget, which accounts for more than half of total county spending, shouldbenefit from a proposed $14 million increase in state "APEX" funding, money designated for instructional programs. The state plans some reductions in transportation and special education funding, but not enough to offset the bulk of the APEX increase.

Unfortunately for county budget planners, the General Assembly has yet to approve the education funding.

"Two weeks from now, we may have to change all these figures," Welkos said.

The only predictable source of revenue is the property tax, which pays for about one-third of the total budget. The county will take in more in property taxes this year because of rising assessments.

But income tax revenue, which pays for 20 percent of the budget, is down 1 percent from last year.

"We'll be lucky to get 1 percent growth in fiscal 1992, which is what we got last year. That's pretty low," Welkos said.

New fees implemented lastyear have created only about $1.5 million -- a veritable drop in thebucket.

Neall has given each department head certain guidelines in preparing budget requests. Among his requests:

* No increase in personnel costs, including contractual services; in supplies and materials; and in business and travel.

* Suggestions for at least two programs in each department which may be suitable for privatization.

* A restructuring plan for each department, designed to improve efficiency.

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