Hayden budget plan packs no surprises County homeowner faces average increase of $32

April 16, 1993|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer Staff writer Mary Maushard contributed to this article.

There was no drama in Baltimore County Executive Roger B. && Hayden's back-to-basics, $1.2 billion budget proposal yesterday.

The highlights of the budget, up 3 percent from last year, had already been known. Mr. Hayden wants more police patrolling county streets, more firefighters on duty and more teachers in county schools. And he's going to do this without raising taxes.

But for the third year in a row, county workers will see no increase in their paychecks.

Mr. Hayden did include $7.2 million for longevity and step increases, though health insurance costs for some workers will rise about $20 a month.

Barring any cuts by the County Council, which has six weeks to examine the budget, the average county homeowner will pay about $32 more a year in property taxes. Budget Director Fred Homan said that is because of slowly rising assessments. However, the property tax rate is proposed to remain at $2.865 per $100 of assessed value.

Council members generally complimented Mr. Hayden's efforts to bolster police and fire protection, add 4,600 school computers, fix leaky school roofs and repave roadways, but begged off any serious comments until they examine the budget.

County union representatives, however, weren't quite as close-mouthed. More than 300 county workers lost their jobs in layoffs in February, and all county workers lost at least five days' pay in 1992 due to state budget cuts.

Ed Veit, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, dismissed the new teachers as "smoke and mirrors" in the face of enrollments rising 3,400 a year.

"I don't feel any county commitment to education," he huffed.

Citing the proposed raises for public workers in Baltimore City and Harford County, Mr. Veit said "it's demonic for this county to treat . . . its employees as it does."

Police union President L. Timothy Caslin said his members might be willing to live with no pay raises, if the county helps in other ways, such as by paying for uniform cleanings to offset higher health insurance bills for Blue Cross, Blue Shield traditional coverage.

The County Council's annual public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 4 at Loch Raven Senior High, 1212 Cowpens Ave.

The proposed budget calls for 128 new police recruits and 20 new firefighters for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The additions are like a drink of cool water after days in the desert -- refreshing, but not enough. Police Chief Cornelius J. Behan said his force had 1,581 officers two years ago. The new recruits will raise the department's strength to 1,482.

Mr. Hayden also plans to hire a private company to transport prisoners, thus relieving county police officers of that duty. He's also considering privatizing the county's central vehicle repair garage and mental health centers.

Fire Chief Elwood H. Banister was glad to know the county plans to buy eight new medical emergency vehicles, seven new fire engines and four ladder trucks.

"This will really bail us out," he said. "These were badly, badly needed."

Though the county's public safety chieftains were generally pleased with the budget, those in education were disappointed, particularly because there would be no pay raise.

"The education system will not move forward," said School Superintendent Stuart Berger. "We can look [the teachers] in the eye and say this is not a gain. We made a good-faith effort to get that contract [with the pay raises] funded."

The school board asked for 138 new teachers. The budget gives them 51. This includes 10 for an Alternative High School program to deal with kids who now might be expelled and six for Lutherville Elementary School, which will reopen in September.

School officials did get $500,000 more than they requested for classroom supplies. The money will help teachers who now complain that they have to spend their own money to buy supplies, Mr. Hayden said. The county will increase school supply funds 40 percent over last year.

Mr. Hayden and Mr. Homan insisted their plan will preserve the current teacher student ratio. But Dr. Berger said he was "dismayed" and complained that class sizes will go up next September unless he gets the 138 teachers he requested.

Mr. Berger also said education's share of total county spending will shrink under the new plan because $26 million must cover obligations previously paid for by the county or the state. This includes social security payments and salaries for school nurses.

Capital budget funds were earmarked to renovate Cromwell Elementary and reopen it in 1994 to help relieve overcrowding. But $500,000 for new equipment for Sudbrook Middle School was cut. Sudbrook, now closed, is due to reopen in September 1994.

The proposed capital budget also includes $8.8 million to fix every currently leaking school roof in the county by 1996, $1.7 million to repave roads and add curbs and gutters in older, often neglected county neighborhoods, and $1 million to help buy the rest of Cromwell Valley, northeast of Towson, for preservation.

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