The Baltimore County Council has decided to cut $7 million from County Executive Roger B. Hayden's $1.15 billion proposed budget, but increase the piggyback income tax rate to 55 percent from 50 percent.
That would leave the county with more incoming revenue than is slated for spending. Some $4.5 million of the $7 million freed by the council's strategy would be used bolster the county's "rainy day fund," an account that could be used to offset state aid cuts expected in the fall, according to Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, R-6th.
Slightly more than $2 million of the money cut from the budget would be used to hire new officers for the Police Department and more paramedics for the Fire Department, Mr. Howard said. And $300,000 would be spent to buy more computers for county schoolchildren.
Fred Homan the county budget director, has predicted that the state will face a $300 million budget shortfall next fiscal year and will be forced to slash money to local governments. If those cuts don't occur, however, the county could spend the rainy day fund money later in the year, Mr. Howard said. In that case, the schools would get an additional $700,000 for computers, he said. But none of the $7 million would be allocated to hire more new teachers.
Because five of the seven council members, including Mr. Howard, were elected in 1990 on a wave of voter sentiment for lower taxes and less government spending, Mr. Howard ackknowledges that there are possible political consequences in voting to cut spending and increase taxes.
"I'm sweating it out," Mr. Howard said. "Bill Howard, of all people, voting for a piggyback tax increase?" he asked, as if he still didn't believe it himself.
The money freed by the council's action would allow the county to start a class of 40 police recruits July 1, he said. That would help offset the loss of 150 officers who retired last year under the county's early retirement incentive program.
The strategy also would allow the county to move some paramedics, who are now serving as firefighters because of budget cuts, back to the department's Emergency Medical Services section. Some new paramedics may be recruited as well, Mr. Howard said. And aging ambulances could be replaced.
Most of the cuts that make up the $7 million hit are very small, and are spread throughout county government, Mr. Howard said.
About $3,000 would be cut from the county administrator's office, for example. And $6,000 would come from the planning and zoning budget.
Some $500,000 would be cut from the $1 million general contingency fund.
And the county's three community colleges would lose a total of $171,000.
The operating budget cash in the capital budget would take the largest hit -- $2.5 million. That cut would merely delay some projects, however, not end them.
Some of the cuts council plans to make exist only on paper, since they come from revised revenue and spending predictions, not from eliminating actual jobs or programs.
For example, the council estimates that the time it takes to fill county jobs that open because of normal turnover should free about $1 million more in salaries than the administration calculated. And new estimates of fuel and utility cost estimates helped get another $900,000 out of the Central Services Department.
The council is scheduled to meet formally May 28 to vote on the budget and adopt the new tax rates.