Hayden Holds the Line

April 19, 1993

Baltimore County Executive Roger Hayden managed a neat trick with the fiscal 1994 budget he presented last Thursday. He held the spending line with a $1.2 billion proposal just slightly higher than the current budget. At the same time, he tended to needs in what he says are his priority areas: public safety, infrastructure and education.

Mr. Hayden calls his proposal "a citizens' budget," and indeed, he offers some items designed to please the crowd. For example, he has included funding for four new police recruit classes. That's music to the ears of citizens increasingly concerned about crime in the county. However, the new recruits will still leave the police force with about 100 fewer officers than it had two years ago.

The fire department, too, will get a new recruit class and, for the first time in a while, new fire engines and ladder trucks.

Citing the need to rejuvenate the suburb's older communities, Mr. Hayden requested $1.75 million for street rehabilitation and $500,000 for bridge repairs. Along similar lines, the proposed 1994 budget would pay for much-needed, long-delayed repairs to leaky roofs at public schools. The work would be completed within two years.

The Board of Education would receive about $8 million more than it asked for, though much of the increase in county funds will pay for the Social Security benefits of teachers, a burden formerly carried by the state. Still, Mr. Hayden submitted items that should be helpful to the school system, such as 35-plus extra teaching positions, a doubling of the number of classroom computers to 9,200 and a 40 percent increase in textbooks and other materials.

School Superintendent Stuart Berger said he's worried that the budget would increase class sizes. If so, then this marks a switch from his previous stance that class size isn't a crucial concern.

As Mr. Hayden promised, he didn't ask for a raise in the piggyback income tax or in the property tax rate. Nor did he call for teacher raises or cost-of-living pay boosts for government employees. For those goodies, county workers might have to wait until 1994, an election year.

After the layoffs and the government downsizing announced last February, this could have been a much more austere budget. It is by no means fat, and certainly many county workers and citizens will pick it apart. But overall Mr. Hayden has done a good job of controlling expenses while assuring some important needs are met.

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