The Baltimore County Council has decided to cut $7 million from County Executive Roger B. Hayden's $1.15 billion proposed budget, but also to 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 to 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 police officers and more paramedics, Mr. Howard says. 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 funding for local governments. If those cuts don't occur, however, the county could spend the rainy day money later in the year, Mr. Howard says. In that case, the schools would get an additional $700,000 for computers, he says. 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 acknowledges that there are possible political consequences in voting to cut spending and increase taxes.
"I'm sweating it out," Mr. Howard says. "Bill Howard, of all people, voting for a piggy back tax increase?" he asks, as if he still doesn'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 says. 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 return some paramedics, who are now serving as firefighters because of budget cuts, to the department's Emergency Medical Services section. Some new paramedics may be recruited as well, Mr. Howard says. And aging ambulances could be replaced.
Most of the cuts that make up the $7 million figure are very small, and are spread throughout county government, Mr. Howard says.
The operating budget cash in the capital budget would take the largest cut, $2.5 million, delaying some projects but not ending them. The county's three community colleges would lose a total of $171,000.
Some of the cuts the 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.