Neall braces council for harsh fiscal medicine

May 02, 1992|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff Writer

Calling his proposed $634 million budget "strong medicine," Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall yesterday warned of bigger doses to come as he pursues a mission to reduce the size of government.

The spending plan, which abolishes the jobs of 88 county workers, eliminates 50 unfilled positions and takes steps toward privatization of several county agencies, is the first step in reshaping government to fit the post-recession economy, Mr. Neall said.

The proposed budget "is a prescription for coping with the challenges that lie ahead," he said, speaking before a packed County Council chamber in Annapolis. "And though I believe it will be effective at helping us meet our mission, I must warn you it is not candy-coated. This budget is strong medicine."

Despite opposition from tax activists, the budget continues to rely on the property tax as the main source of revenue. Property taxes would account for 42 percent of budget revenues, 3 percent more than last year.

The property tax rate remains stable at $2.45 per $100 of assessed value, but the average homeowner will pay about $100 more in taxes this year due to rising assessments.

Unlike leaders in Prince George's, Baltimore and Montgomery counties, Mr. Neall is not proposing an increase in the state piggyback income tax rate, which remains at 50 percent.

The $348 million budget proposed for the school system is $20 million less than the Board of Education's request, but Mr. Neall provided money for 93 new teachers to handle the 2,600 additional students expected next year. Overall school funding increases 4.4 percent under the new plan.

Mr. Neall's top budget priority is an unprecedented $10 million rainy day fund to be used as an "insurance policy" against the kind of fiscal crisis suffered last year, when the state drastically cut aid to local jurisdictions. To help cover last year's loss of more than $20 million in state aid, Mr. Neall asked 4,300 county and 7,000 school workers to take wage concessions.

Mr. Neall wants to reduce the county work force by 10 percent by the time his four-year term ends in 1994.

The 88 positions that will be eliminated beginning July 1, the beginning of the 1993 fiscal year, include administrative, blue-collar and clerical workers in 13 agencies.

Some County Council members said they are uncomfortable with the layoffs and hope to persuade the executive to change his mind.

"I am very disturbed," said Councilman George Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat. "This is no way to treat county workers."

The council has until May 29 to approve a new budget.

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