A bleak outlook in Balto. County County budget chief predicts further losses next fall.

May 15, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County's budget director predicted yesterday that the county will lose another $10 million to $20 million in state budget cuts next fall.

Fred Homan said he thinks the state is about $300 million off in its budget estimates for next fiscal year, and will have to cut more funds to local governments to make up the difference.

The county lost $62 million this year as a result of state budget cuts and a drop in local tax revenue caused by the recession.

The reduction has made pay raises for county employees impossible, forced County Executive Roger B. Hayden to lobby for an increase in the local piggyback income tax rate and to order county workers to take five unpaid furlough days.

Mr. Homan's latest bad news comes while the County Council is in the middle of a debate over whether to approve the piggyback increase that funds Mr. Hayden's proposed budget, cut the budget, or even increase the income tax rate more than the executive has asked for. Mr. Hayden wants to increase the rate from 50 percent to 55 percent to raise an extra $25 million.

Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, a 6th District Republican, said managing the county's financial fate, which is at the hands of state government, is "like being in a hurricane. . . . First we get buffeted by the wind and rain, then there's this calm in the eye, and then you get hit by the other side," he said.

But Councilman Melvin G. Mintz, a 2nd District Democrat, seemed unimpressed by the latest fiscal news. He suggested cutting in half the $5.5 million fund Mr. Hayden included in his budget to cushion further state budget cuts. Mr. Mintz wants to use the money to clip one penny off the county's $2.865 property tax rate, and perhaps reduce the size of the income tax increase as well.

Councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, a 3rd District Democrat, was incredulous at Mr. Mintz's suggestion. A largely symbolic property tax rate cut in the face of state budget cuts would jeopardize the county's credibility with the General Assembly, he said, because if the county can afford to cut its property tax rate, state lawmakers might not believe that the budget cuts have hurt. "Do you know what the legislature would do to us if we cut the property tax?" Mr. Ruppersberger asked. "They'd blow us out of the water."

Councilman Vincent Gardina, a 5th District Democrat, also opposed Mr. Mintz's idea. He worried that additional budget cuts would force more furloughs for county workers and further fray relations with labor groups.

Douglas B. Riley, a 4th District Republican, who won his council seat in 1990 on a platform of fiscal conservatism, suggested perhaps raising the piggyback tax to 58 percent, instead of the 55 percent Mr. Hayden has requested, so the county would have enough money to balance out any state budget cuts that might come next fall.

And Dundalk's Donald C. Mason, a 7th District Democrat, who would like to keep the piggyback tax rate at 50 percent, proposed trying to force the autonomous county school board to sell 82 cars -- from two 1980 Chevettes worth $150 each to 13 1991 Ford Crown Victorias worth $11,000 each. That would save roughly $500,000, he said. Mr. Mason also proposed privatizing school bus service and eliminating the county's departments of Aging and Environment, which would save an estimated $244,000.

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