Harford braces for more cuts State may trim over $1 million next budget year HARFORD COUNTY

February 28, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Harford County could lose more than $1 million in state money next budget year, the county executive said.

Eileen M. Rehrmann said last week that the county stands to lose the money in the budget year that begins July 1 because of expected state spending reductions.

L Harford has lost $7.5 million in state aid this budget year.

The county probably will lose about $807,000 for local law enforcement, $240,000 for education, $135,000 for Harford Community College and $125,000 for the health department, said Larry Klimovitz, director of administration.

But continuing uncertainty over precisely what the county will lose has frustrated Mrs. Rehrmann.

"It's very difficult to prepare your own budget when you don't know what the General Assembly will do," she said at a public hearing on the budget Wednesday night.

The executive's budget must be sent to the County Council by April 1.

"I've got to make my final decisions on the county's budget next week but the state legislature is at least four weeks away from making up its mind," Mrs. Rehrmann told about 150 people at the standing-room only meeting at the Abingdon Volunteer Fire Department Hall.

Del. Donald C. Fry, D-35A, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said the state legislature is discussing ways to cut about $125 million from next year's budget, including about $45.6 million from the state's 24 subdivisions. He said Harford County could lose $1.3 to $1.4 million.

But Jeffrey D. Wilson, the County Council president, said Harford easily could afford losing that much.

"Harford could absorb 10 times that amount because Mrs. Rehrmann has been socking money away," he said.

For example, he said the county is "ahead" by $3.5 million in property tax collections, money the county has not included in this year's revenue projections, and the county has $11.5 million in what Mrs. Rehrmann calls her surplus fund.

The executive, however, says the county needs the surplus to preserve its bond rating and absorb further possible state spending reductions.

Mr. Klimovitz, the director of administration, said the county is managing its money well.

"We must be doing the right thing because we are not having layoffs or furloughs or pay cuts as some other counties have done," he said.

Mrs. Rehrmann has pledged to keep $7.1 million, or about 5 percent, of the total operating budget, in reserve "at all costs."

News of possible cuts in state aid angered some County Council members.

"This has got to stop. I am so tired of the state dumping its fiscal irresponsibility on the counties," said Joanne S. Parrott, R-District B.

She said the county has scraped and scrimped to absorb past state cuts and would find it difficult to absorb another $1.4 million.

Susan Heselton, R-District A, agreed.

"Right now, we are hearing we could lose $1.4 million but I can't tell you what we will hear tomorrow," she said. "And I don't know if I'd believe them, whatever they told us."

Mrs. Heselton said the state promised the subdivisions that there would be no more budget cuts once the subdivisions absorbed costs of Social Security for county workers. About halfway through this fiscal year, the state said it would no longer pay Social Security for teachers and some other county employees. That cost Harford County nearly $6 million.

But Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, said he expected the state to continue cutting aid to the counties.

"When the state needs money, it comes to the counties, and that is going to continue to happen," he said.

Mrs. Rehrmann said she assumed the state cuts would come and that she would have to rethink next year's budget.

She said she had been considering an 8 percent spending increase in the operating budget, which would raise it from $150 million to about $162 million.

"This is a very lean budget," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "That 8 percent sounds like a lot, but when you take away the money for the schools there is practically no growth."

On top of the $6 million increase in Social Security the county will now pay, it also will spend about $1 million to $2 million to open three schools in the fall. Subtract those amounts and the budget increase is about 2.5 percent, Mrs. Rehrmann said.

She said she would make it a priority to avoid layoffs, furloughs and property tax increases. Increasing fees for licenses and permits is also out, she said, because the county raised them last year.

On top of this year's Social Security costs, the state reduced other aid.

For example, the county Health Department, a state agency, was nearly shut down when it lost $930,000 in state aid this year.

To keep it open and provide basic services, the county shifted $800,000 to the department -- half to come this year and half next year.

In July, the state cut aid to the county by $1.2 million, including $400,000 to Harford Community College and $358,000 to the Harford County Sheriff's Department.

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