Hayden budget calls for new taxes New piggyback, sewer levies sought in Balto. Co.

April 23, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Rejecting the anti-tax protesters who helped elect him in 1990, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden today proposed a new budget that would raise the county's piggyback income tax and cost residents more for sewer services.

The executive's spending plan, for the fiscal year that begins July 1 of $1.15 billion, proposes less than 1 percent higher than the amount expected to be spent in the current fiscal year.

For the second consecutive year, Mr. Hayden's budget would provide no cost-of-living pay raises for county employees, although longevity and merit increases would be continued. Workers would pay an average of $200 a year for health insurance.

The executive also left unchanged the property tax rate of $2.86 1/2 per $100 of assessed value.

But the average property tax bill in the fiscal year that begins July 1 would rise $10 a year anyway because of assessment increases.

A proposed 35 percent increase in sewer service rates would cost the average homeowner an extra $48 a year.

The budget would allow replacement of most -- but not all -- of the teachers expected to leave their jobs before September.

Overall, county schools would lose 166 positions, including 129 teachers.

School superintendent Robert Y. Dubel called the budget "disastrous for schools." He said the piggyback income tax rise from 50 to 55 percent is "a lose-lose situation" because it won't appease the anti-tax crowd and won't provide enough to help education.

Teachers Association president Ed Veit said the executive's real message was: "Don't move to Baltimore County."

Because 3,600 additional students are expected in September, the reduction would mean larger class sizes in county schools.

No money was included for new police or fire recruits, though the force is about 150 officers below its authorized strength of 1,500.

In prepared remarks, Mr. Hayden noted that voters elected him in 1990 to stop what they felt was unwarranted spending in county government. But they also rejected a ballot question calling for a 2 percent cap on county revenue growth.

"I did not receive an extremist message," he said. "What I presumed the electorate was saying was that although they were dissatisfied with the previous administration's spending habits, reasonable . . . increases for maintenance of basic services were acceptable."

He added: "We can no more tax our way out of this recession than we can cut and slash our way out of it, and I subscribe to neither extreme."

The most controversial part of the proposal likely will be increasing the piggyback tax rate, which is a local government's surcharge on the state income tax.

To offset cuts in state aid, the 1992 General Assembly gave Baltimore and the state's 23 counties the power to increase the maximum piggyback tax rate to 60 percent of the state income tax from 50 percent.

Mr. Hayden's proposal goes halfway. A county resident who now pays $1,000 in state income tax pays another $500 to the county. Under Mr. Hayden's proposal, the resident would pay a piggyback tax of $550. For someone earning $50,000 per year, the extra bite would equal $83 a year.

The piggyback income tax increase would bring in about $23 million, county budget director Fred Homan estimated.

If the County Council wants to avoid that tax increase, it will have to find the $23 million in other new revenue or cut that much from Mr. Hayden's budget.

Although the $1.15 billion spending plan is fractionally higher than last year's, Mr. Hayden said much of that increase would come, not from locally generated sources, but from more state aid to education, higher tuition fees charged by the county's three community colleges and higher water and sewer maintenance costs.

For the current fiscal year, the county appropriated $862 million from locally generated revenue and expects to spend $837 million.

In fiscal 1993, which starts July 1, Mr. Hayden proposes spending $842 million raised by county taxes.

Because of the recession, the county lost $36 million in state funds this year and locally generated revenue was lower than expected by another $27 million -- a total hit of $63 million.

Mr. Hayden is using a one-time accounting change to avoid ending this fiscal year with an $8.5 million deficit.

He also has left a $5.5 million unappropriated emergency fund in next year's budget proposal. That money would be used if the state has to cut local aid again.

Mr. Homan said he believes this is likely because the state budget is "balanced on paper only."

In fact, Mr. Homan estimates that the state will come up $160 million short in fiscal 1993, which could mean more cuts to local government budgets.

Budget highlights

* TOTAL SPENDING: $1.15 billion.

* PROPERTY TAX RATE: Unchanged. $2.86 1/2 per $100 of assessed value.

* PIGGYBACK TAX: Increases to 55% from 50%.

* WATER/SEWER FEES: 35% increase.

* COUNTY WORKERS: No cost-of-living raises. Higher health insurance costs.

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