Alarmed Officials Poised For Doomsday Budget

April 08, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

The recurring financial nightmare county officials thought would never really happen may come true this week.

The General Assembly, unable to agree on a fiscal 1993 budget, appears likely now to pass a so-called doomsday budget that would virtually eliminate state aid to local governments and school boards.

"We always felt in the bottom of our hearts that at the last minute, they would get together and pass something," said county Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks.

"But they didn't. So we're researching acouple of scenarios available."

"I really don't know what we're going to do," County Executive Charles I. Ecker said. "I really didn'tthink (the doomsday budget) would go through."

Ecker said he has a staff member in Annapolis to keep him informed about the situation,and that he plans to talk with members of the county's Annapolis delegation once facts become clearer.

James R. Swab, president of theHoward County Education Association, called the doomsday budget "theworst scenario possible for Howard County and the state of Maryland."

He had scathing comments for state Sens. Thomas M. Yeager, D-13,and Christopher J. McCabe, R-14. Their votes could end up costing Howard County and the Board of Education millions of dollars, Swab said.

"Unless they compromise, their 'no, no, no' votes could mean layoffs of teachers and policemen, as well as larger class sizes," he said.

He said his organization is prepared to target McCabe and Yeager for defeat in the next election.

"We have been lobbying the delegation, but only Virginia Thomas (D-13A) has responded to the educational community," he said.

Ecker and Superintendent Michael E. Hickey have pledged to try to give employees salary increases in the fiscal year that begins July 1. This year, neither school nor county government workers received raises, and most government employees took pay losses because of five furlough days.

Teachers and county firefighters will be covered on non-salary issues in 1992-1993 by existingcontracts and are negotiating only raises.

County police, blue-collar and corrections workers, school secretaries, instructional assistants, custodians and maintenance workers are negotiating new contracts.

Budget Director Wacks said the administration may do one of two things if the General Assembly does not act soon: The administration can do what Prince George's County has done and send the council a proposed budget that assumes state funding, he said, or it can raise taxes and cut the budget some more.

A third alternative, Wacks said, would be for the administration to fulfill the letter of the law by proposing a bare-bones operating budget it knows it may have to amend later.

The administration's problem, Wacks said, is that it is required by law to submit its proposed budget to the council no laterthan April 20 -- 70 days before the beginning of the next fiscal year. The council is required to pass the budget by June 1.

Even whenfigures are readily available, it takes several days to prepare a 200-page budget document, Wacks said.

"We in the budget office are poised and ready, but we have no place to go," he said.

Wacks also expressed concern about a proposed $8 million cut in state aid for fiscal 1992. Based on earlier information, Ecker expected the cut to bereduced to $4 million and reduced the county budget accordingly.

"Right now we are not sure what it's going to be," Wacks said. "We'rehoping to have some idea by Thursday (today)."

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