Cuts won't hurt services, Ecker says Provisions were made in new budget

July 19, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff writer

Howard County will not have to reduce services as a result of a $1 million cut in state aid, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last week.

"We felt this was coming and built this into the budget," Mr. Ecker said Thursday. "No services will be cut."

The state is trimming $40 million in aid to counties and Baltimore City. The money is being taken from fiscal 1993 budgets to help balance the state's fiscal 1992 budget. The new fiscal year began July 1.

Locally, money was cut from the Board of Education, the health department, the police department and Howard Community College.

The police department took the biggest hit, losing $370,000. The college was cut $339,000, followed by the health department with a $230,000 cut and the school system with a $71,696 cut in money for programs not mandated by state or federal law.

Department heads say it is too early to tell how the cuts will affect them.

"We're hoping we will be able to reduce expenses without laying anyone off," said Dr. Joyce Boyd, the county health officer. "We're not filling any vacancies. I don't know yet what it will mean in terms of programs, but at this point, I don't think it means reducing programs."

"If that's all, we can handle it," said school superintendent Michael E. Hickey. "But it's worrisome that we're only 15 days into the fiscal year and already starting to experience cuts."

The education cuts were about half of what Mr. Hickey expected. He said he had been told 10 days ago that about

$130,000 might be cut from non-mandated money to education. Police officials have no idea yet what the cuts will mean, because the state aid goes into the county's general fund rather into a specific police account, said Sgt. Gary L. Gardner, a police spokesman. Howard Community College President Dwight Burrill was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

Mr. Ecker said he hopes to cover the deficits with an expected surplus from fiscal 1992 and by shifting funds. He said he won't know the amount of the surplus until September, when the county learns how much it received from income taxes.

The county forecast a 2 percent increase in income tax revenue when formulating its fiscal 1993 budget. State prognosticators expected 6 percent and have already revised that figure downward.

Mr. Ecker said he has put a lid on purchases, pay-as-you-go projects and discretionary funding until he knows for sure how much of a surplus the county will have.

"I don't know how much more the state can take away, if any," without the county having to revise its budget, Mr. Ecker said. "Unless it's a lot more, hopefully the budget will cover it. If we have drastic cuts -- and I can't at this point define drastic -- we may have to go back in and reduce the budget."

In fiscal 1992, the county was forced to reduce its budget every three months because of continual cuts in state aid. The reductions became so severe that Mr. Ecker laid off the entire county work force without pay for a week in late December. Altogether, the county had to trim more than $18 million in fiscal 1992 from what officials said was an already austere budget.

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