A Wonderful Time for Bobby Neall ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY

September 29, 1992

What a wonderful time to be county executive for Robert R. Neall, the only local leader who can't help but smile when he talks about the governor's plan to cut $150 million to $210 million in state aid to the counties. Reaction from Maryland's other "Big Seven" jurisdictions ranges from resignation to outright protest; Mr. Neall actually seems to be relishing the ordeal.

Why is this man happy?

Known as a cost-cutter when he was Republican Party leader in the state House of Delegates in the '70s and '80s, Mr. Neall anticipated this year's state budget crisis and its inevitable effect on local jurisdictions better than anyone. Ever since last spring, he has been warning the state grossly overestimated its revenue estimates and that Baltimore City and the 23 counties were going to be in deep trouble if they did not prepare for cutbacks. Determined to avoid the trauma of last year, when the county lost so much state money that the budget had to be cut in mid-year and employees asked to take wage concessions, Mr. Neall made sure he was ready.

Thanks to his foresight, Anne Arundel County will be able to absorb its $15 million share of the governor's budget cuts with virtually no impact on citizens and county employees.

A large hunk of the savings will come from a voluntary early-retirement program, which Mr. Neall offered last spring; 149 workers accepted. About 60 of those positions will be abolished, for annual savings of $2 million. The rest of the state cut will be covered by deferring pay-as-you-go capital projects, tightening department budgets and drawing on a $7 million "fund balance" -- money left from the previous year.

If he were really in trouble, Mr. Neall could rely on the $10 million "rainy day fund" he insisted on setting up this year. As it is, his other cost-saving measures have left Anne Arundel in good enough shape that the fund will not have to be touched.

Last spring, teachers and other county workers fought Mr. Neall's attempts to set aside millions. Having foregone a pay increase the year before, they felt the money should go toward a raise. This year, at least, he did the right thing.

Mr. Neall has said he believes he was "made" to govern in bad economic times. The way he foresaw this crisis and prepared for it leaves little room for argument.

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