Neall welcomes state aid, but expectations are low

January 24, 1993|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Staff Writer

County Executive Robert R. Neall welcomes the additional aid promised in Gov. William Donald Schaefer's proposed state budget. He just doesn't expect to see very much of it.

The county would stand to gain an extra $15.5 million next fiscal year, for a total of $197.4 million. But that's just a drop in the bucket compared to the $64.4 million in cuts the county has weathered over the past two years.

And better than half of the additional state money, the county executive noted, is earmarked for education.

"When you boil it all down, general aid to local government has declined," Mr. Neall said. "What's holding the numbers up is aid to education. I'm happy to get the public support for education, but being the executive of Anne Arundel County and trying to maintain local services, [aid to education] doesn't help me much."

State aid to education -- APEX funds -- will increase by $8.5 million next year, for a total of $100.4 million. That money passes by Mr. Neall's outstretched hand and goes straight to the county Board of Education, which controls its own purse strings.

Public safety will increase by about $5.5 million, including $4.9 million for police aid, $182,000 for 911 service and $391,000 for a fire-and-rescue grant.

About $1.3 million in health aid, which was severely cut last year, was restored.

Mr. Neall said that unlike some counties, which cut programs and services when hit with the state cuts, Anne Arundel was able to shift money from other parts of the budget to "backfill" areas like health that were hard hit.

"Whatever additional money we'll get will help to pay back some of the general county dollars that we diverted from other areas to pay for the state cutbacks," he said.

Mr. Neall said the governor's $12.7 billion fiscal plan "looks at first blush to me to be a fair budget," but the extra money headed Anne Arundel's way is offset by new responsibilities.

The county must assume payment of $15 million in Social Security taxes for teachers, librarians and community college employees that the state used to pick up.

And then there's the tax cap, which will limit the growth in property tax revenue the county takes in to 4.5 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever is less.

Mr. Neall said all these factors have persuaded him to pursue his plan to radically reorganize and consolidate county government.

"Our reorganization plans are firmly established between the rock, which is the permanent local reductions, like the Social Security cuts, and the hard place, which is the tax cap," Mr. Neall said. "Nothing that the state is doing in the budget materially affects that situation at all. . . . Incremental increases in state aid will not cure the fundamental problem that I'm trying to address."

And based on past experience, Mr. Neall said, he is by no means confident that this is the budget that will be adopted; or if it is, that the legislature won't come back to the subdivisions later asking for new cuts in local aid.

"The $64 dollar question is, is this going to be a 365-day fiscal year?" he asked. "Or, is it going to be broken down into fits and starts, like last year?"

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