Counties, city prepare to take the next funding hit $147 million reduction in the pipeline

October 16, 1992|By Larry Carson and Michael A. Fletcher | Larry Carson and Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writers

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke was preparing for the worst while Baltimore County's normally reticent executive lashed out yesterday at the governor and state legislative leaders after they announced plans to cut $147 million in aid to local governments.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden accused Gov. William Donald Schaefer and legislative leaders of dumping Maryland's fiscal problems on local governments, instead of solving them. He called that a breach of faith.

"The compact has been broken," Mr. Hayden said of the long-standing practice under which the state has returned some of its tax dollars for local use.

Mr. Schmoke said the city's 26,000 employees will have to accept pay reductions or face layoffs if the city is to absorb the $20 million in state aid it is likely to lose.

"We don't have many options," he said. "In a budget that is 80 percent personnel, we are left with some combination of salary reductions,layoffs and furloughs."

The effect of lost aid will be eased through savings in other programs in Anne Arundel County and through surplus funds in Harford County, officials in those counties said. Howard County will develop a plan to address the cuts, and the Carroll County commissioners had no comment.

In Baltimore, Mr. Schmoke's plans are sure to be opposed by municipal employee union leaders who say their members have shouldered the brunt of the city's fiscal problems. They point out that workers have not had a pay increase for two years, and last year were forced to take a 2 1/2 -day furlough. They successfully challenged the furloughs in federal court, which ordered the city to restore the pay cut. The city will appeal.

"No. No salary reduction from us," said Irene B. Dandridge, president of the Baltimore Teachers Union. "We just can't afford another salary reduction. . . . Let them close the schools, then the public can decide what we should do. This has gotten out of hand."

Legislative leaders are planning to slash aid to local governments by eliminating a program that pays the employer's share of Social Security benefits for teachers, librarians and community college professors. A special session of the General Assembly is expected to convene next month to consider the proposal.

"It is a better program to eliminate than some others that were discussed," Mr. Schmoke said. "In the long run, it would be the least hurtful to the city."

Mr. Schmoke said he would urge city legislators to back the proposed budget deal, so long as the city receives some credit for the $14 million in cuts it has absorbed since July. "We've taken a bigger hit than most counties," Mr. Schmoke said.

Cuts made earlier this fiscal year prompted the city to lay off 60 city employees effective Oct. 30.

Mr. Schmoke said that if the General Assembly approves the cuts -- a prospect that seemed unclear yesterday -- he would go far beyond the school system and spread the pain throughout city government.

Baltimore County would lose $19.1 million, which would bring the total cut in aid this year to $25.6 million.

Mr. Hayden would not say how the county would deal with the cuts. After the last round of state reductions, he ordered his departments to rank their programs in order of importance. He said he will make his decisions on which programs to cut after reviewing their findings sometime next month.

Anne Arundel County

Education will not bear the brunt of the proposed $14.4 million cut in state aid, said Robert R. Neall, the Anne Arundel County executive

"A lot of people who are against this cut say it's an education cut. Nothing could be further from the truth," said Mr. Neall, who suggested the cuts proposed by state officials.

He said he will pay for the reduction through savings in the county's recent voluntary retirement program, by deferring payment on certain capital projects and by drawing on last year's $7 million budget surplus.

Howard County

The $6.9 million likely to be cut in Howard comes on top $700,000 stripped from the local health department in two rounds of state cuts earlier this year. The governor reduced aid statewide to county health departments by $11.6 million earlier this month.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker ruled out a tax increase yesterday.He said he will come up with a plan to cover the cuts in the next two weeks.

Harford County

Harford is in better financial shape to take the hit than are most of the other subdivisions, with a $13.7 million surplus in the county's coffers as of June 30.

But county officials say all of that money can't be used to offset the burden of a nearly $5.9 million cut in payment of Social Security benefits, or the previous $1.7 million cut the county has sustained since July.

"We needed a rainy day fund, but it continues to rain," said Eileen M. Rehrmann, the Harford County executive.

Mrs. Rehrmann said she wouldn't try to match the state cuts dollar for dollar, but she reiterated to unions yesterday her promise to protect jobs.

Harford is the only county in the metropolitan area that has not resorted to either furloughs or layoffs to save money.

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