Neall budget reflects fundamental shift in philosophy Government programs slated to be cut

May 11, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff writer

Shane FitzGerald, an 18-year-old from Deale, said his life hit bottom last year when he was picked up by police for driving without a license and leaving the scene of an accident.

FitzGerald, a self-described "wayward youth," was ordered by a District Court judge in February to attend the county-run Careers Center in Crownsville.

The high school dropout has since been studying to earn his General Equivalency Diploma, expects to graduate June 19 and plans to attend Anne Arundel Community College.

"After that, the sky's the limit," said FitzGerald, who brims with the enthusiasm of youth.

But FitzGerald may be in the last graduating class at the Careers Center. The 15-year-old program is due to be shut down June 30, a victim of County Executive Robert R. Neall's budget cuts.

Neall's $634 million budget represents a philosophical change in course from previous administrations, a reversal from government as problem-solver to government as provider of basic services at the lowest cost.

Most debate on the budget, by a County Council that must approve it by May 30, has so far focused on the 38 workers being laid off and the 50 other jobs being transferred to private sector operations.

But that may change this week when the council holds public hearings on the budget. The sessions traditionally attract both ordinary citizens whose lives are touched by county government and advocates for programs slated to be cut.

Neall's funding decisions this year have sparked concerns from a wide range of interest groups -- including advocates for juvenile offenders, the county park system and battered women.

Battered women

"We hope to get the county executive to change his mind," said Michaele Cohen, director of the YWCA Woman's Center, which had $45,890 cut out of its battered spouse counseling and shelter program. The cut represents 16 percent of a $294,000 budget for a program that provided counseling to 413 people in the 12-month period that ended June 30, 1991, she said. Shelter was provided to 318 women and children during the same period, she said.

Neall eliminated the executive director for the Anne Arundel County Commission for Women, a $30,850 contractual post.

Also cut was the $30,000 for legal services to help women get advice regarding court cases and custody fights, win child support and handle other domestic disputes that the Legal Aid Bureau will not handle. Cohen said she doesn't know how she will be able to continue operating.

"These are people who are seeking help in the legal system because they were battered. They're messy visitation cases, custody cases, cases that no one else will handle," said Marcia Conrad, the private attorney who did most of the work. "Now there won't be anyone there to represent them."

Cohen said she doesn't know how she will make ends meet.

"It's just shocking to all of us that this would happen. This is just unconscionable," she said.

The center is circulating a petition and asking friends to contact their council members to persuade them to restore the funds. But at least one council member doesn't need convincing.

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb said last week she was shocked at the cuts.

"This is considered one of the best programs in the state. I'd like to know what they're going to do now and what the rationale was for making those decision," she told budget analyst Jeffrey Ballentine when he briefed the council on the cuts Thursday.

Ballentine said he would get back to her with the reasoning, but said after the session it was a matter of "doing the best with scarce resources."

Arts and Recreation

Most recreation and arts programs are slated to continue, including the county's Summer Starlight Concerts, scheduled throughout the summer at 10 locations.

Jay Cuccia, a Parks and Recreation Department spokesman, said Neall also has decided to hold the July 4 Family Day at Downs Park in Pasadena, but has killed the Labor Day concerts by the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra, which were longtime traditions.

Last year, ASO concerts at Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis and at Downs Park cost $43,500, and that was seen as too much to spend, Cuccia said.

"When we look at all the services we have to provide, it's just hard to justify that kind of expense for a one-day, one-time event," Cuccia said.

Juvenile Services

George E. Surgeon, the retired school principal who has run the careers center for 14 of its 15-year existence, said it is hard to justify killing the program.

"The thinking was that if you could take 100 juvenile delinquents off the street, and make a taxpayer out of a tax-taker, you could make the program pay for itself," Surgeon said.

The center takes in about 100 youths a year and can claim to have turned around the lives of about 1,500 youths, Surgeon said.

FitzGerald says his life was turned around.

"They just should not kill that program. You have to let people know that," said FitzGerald. "I feel very strongly about it. If it can help me, it can help anyone."

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