1,000 Baltimore County residents speak out against budget cuts

May 13, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

More than 1,000 Baltimore County residents opposed to cuts in services and government employees seeking to protect jobs and raises filled Loch Raven High School's auditorium last night for a noisy public hearing at which they urged the County Council not to cut the budget.

They outnumbered a small but vocal group of countians protesting a proposed increase in the county's piggyback income tax to offset a budget cut.

Carrying signs reading "Boo" and bolstered by a costumed biblical Moses carrying commandments against cuts in education, the crowd filled the 1,200-seat auditorium to overflowing. Nearly 200 people signed up to speak.

"We know there is waste at every level of government," said one of the first speakers, Del. Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, trying to sway the council against the piggyback-tax increase -- from the current 50 percent level to 55 percent -- proposed by Republican County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

Delegate DePazzo and two Republican politicians who followed him to the microphone were roundly booed and hissed by the aroused crowd, which appeared to largely favor the tax increase.

Retiring county school Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel, the next speaker, received a standing ovation and wild cheers after warning the council that the budget, as proposed by Mr. Hayden, would downgrade the county schools..

"We must learn hard lessons of the great cities of the United States as our school system becomes more urbanized," Dr. Dubel said. "As their school systems declined, so did their quality of life."

The public hearing is an annual event required by law as the council considers whether to make cuts in the executive's budget. The council may cut the budget, but not add to it, and it must complete its work and set a tax rate by June 1.

One of the major worries of county workers is that the council will cut their merit and longevity pay increases as it tries to trim Mr. Hayden's spending plan to avoid a tax increase.

"County employees have done enough to carry the burden for county taxpayers," Joyce Fannon, a county school nurse, told the council.

Edward Pedrick, president of the county chapter of the largely blue-collar American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, told the seven part-time council members they "make more money than anybody in my unit with 30 years of employment."

The theme of wasted money was picked up by Steve Vukovan -- the only tax protester to win cheers from education advocates when he criticized the school board's recent $10,000 convention trip to Orlando.

Mr. Hayden has included in his budget $7.8 million for the pay raises in the 1993 fiscal year, which begins July 1. The proposed increase in the piggyback tax is expected to generate $25 million in revenue.

But council members, eager to please voters, would like to trim the proposed tax increase and are exploring every option for cutting money from the $1.15 billion budget. The money for the pay raises represents the single-largest chunk of funds available to them.

But so far, council members seemed to be split on whether to cut it.

"My goal is to get one cent off the property tax rate and cut the piggyback tax increase to 52 percent," said Melvin G. Mintz, D-2nd, who represents the Pikesville-Randallstown area. He would need to find about $12 million to cut in order to achieve that goal.

Mr. Mintz staunchly opposes cutting the $7.8 million for merit and longevity pay increases, however.

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