Cash Tight For Schools, Ecker Says

'93 Capital Budget Limits Construction

April 05, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The county is committed to funding schools, but less lavishly than in the past, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last week.

"We have to cut out what is nice and build only what is needed," Ecker said Wednesday in explaining his $74 million capital budget proposal for fiscal 1993.

To arrive at the $74 million figure, Ecker pared $20 million fromdepartmental requests, including $7.6 million from the Board of Education.

Despite the cut, the education portion consumes 45 percent of the budget.

That figure could swell to 50 percent if the CountyCouncil chooses to restore what Ecker cut from education.

The council can restore cuts Ecker made to the education portion of the budget, but cannot restore funds he cut from other departmental requests.The council can only accept what Ecker proposes for those departments -- or cut deeper.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said he and Ecker discussed the education portion of the proposed budget March 27 and that he was "reasonably satisfied with it."

Hickey said Ecker initially wanted to postpone financing of a new western high school until fiscal 1994. The two worked out a compromise whereby the county would fund 70 percent now and the rest later. That and the fact that Ecker fully funded a new western elementary school "will work fine for us," Hickey said.

On the other hand, Hickey expressed concern about Ecker having cut $2 million from the school system's $3 million renovation project and $1 million from the board's site acquisition reserve.

"We're glad to have school projects funded," Hickey said, "but we're getting to the point where some of our buildings need fairly substantial renovations. We recognize that these are difficult times, but we will try to get (the council to put) back some of the . . .maintenance money if we can."

It won't be easy. Ecker's bond affordability committee recommended that the county issue not more than $52 million in general obligation bonds for the fiscal 1993 budget. Ecker proposes issuing $51.6 million. Restoring the renovation money could push the county over the limit unless the council cuts elsewhere.But Ecker himself has already cut 10 of 16 other categories by more than $13 million.

The General Assembly has not decided how much public school money, if any, to commit to Howard County.

Since the capital budget request had to be sent to the council by April 1, Eckerproposed using county bonds only to build the new western high school and the new western elementary school.

Ecker spread the western high school funding over three years -- $18.4 million this year, $4.2million the next and $1.8 million in fiscal 1995.

The school board had asked for $22.5 million for the western high school this year, including $9.2 million in hoped-for public school funds from the state.

The education and community college portions of the budget, both cut by Ecker, make up more than 55 percent of the total budget. Road construction takes up 13 percent and various county projects account for the remaining 32 percent.

Included among the county projectsis $4.2 million for the second phase of an 18,000-square-foot policesubstation and 9,000-square-foot fire station at Route 216 and U.S. 29. The project is scheduled for completion in fiscal 1994.

Among the projects Ecker put on hold for a year were the Dorsey Hall fire station, the Glenwood fire station and an emergency vehicle repair facility. Modernization of the central library was also shelved temporarily.

Howard Community College will have to wait at least another year for more exterior lighting, renovation of the theater and renovation of the physical education building.

Rather than build a new classroom building, the college will instead occupy most of the HickoryRidge building, Ecker said. County agencies now using the Hickory Ridge building will move to a new office building.

Ecker told the council he is requesting $6 million to buy an existing office building to house operations now using Hickory Ridge. Such a purchase will be cheaper than building new, he said.

Should state money become available, Ecker said he would prefer to reduce the amount of county-issued bonds rather than restore projects that have been cut or postponed.

FY 1993 CAPITAL BUDGET PROPOSAL

.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Departmental .. Ecker's

Category .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. request ..proposal

Agricultural preservation .. .. .. .. .0 .. .. .. 0

Bridge improvements .. .... .. .$387,000 .. $92,000

Community college .. .. .. .. .8,560,500 .1,384,500

Community renewal .. .. .. .. .2,120,000 .2,120,000

Education .. .. .. .. .. .. ..41,005,000 33,373,000

Fire .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... .2,863,000 .. 458,000

General county projects .. .. 11,224,000 13,170,000

Intersection controls .. .. .. ..759,000 .. 565,000

Libraries .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 1,490,000 .. 790,000

Police .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. 33,000 .. .33,000

Recreation and parks .. .. .. (-597,000) .. 209,500

Road resurfacing .. .. .. .. ..3,100,000 .. 502,000

Road construction .. .. .... .6,722,000 .5,997,000

Sewer .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .6,548,000.6,583,000

Sidewalks/curbs .. .. .. .. .. ..958,000 .. 206,000

Storm drainage .. .. .. .. .. .1,733,000 .. 850,000

Water .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .7,160,000 .7,160,000

TOTAL REQUESTS .. .. .. .. ...94,065,500 74,215,000

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