The Baltimore County Council has decided to approve County Executive Roger B. Hayden's $1.15 billion budget, raising the piggyback income tax rate to 55% from 50%.
The council also has gotten Mr. Hayden to agree to shift $7 million in his proposed spending plan for other purposes.
That budget agreement -- which council members are scheduled to vote on May 28 -- would leave the county with more incoming revenue than is slated for spending. The property tax rate of $2.86 1/2 per $100 of assessed value would remain the same.
Some $4.5 million of the $7 million reapplied 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, said Council Chairman William A. Howard IV, R-6th.
Slightly more than $2 million of the reallocated money would be used to hire new police officers and more paramedics, Mr. Howard said. And $300,000 would be spent to buy more computers for county students.
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 $700,000 more for computers, he says. But none of the $7 million would be used for 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 spending, Mr. Howard acknowledges that there are possible political consequences in voting to cut spending and raise taxes.
"I'm sweating it out," Mr. Howard says. "Bill Howard, of all people, voting for a piggyback 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. The 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 jobs or programs.