Police expect surplus Up to $2 million from 1993 budget might be left over

April 19, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

The Baltimore Police Department appears likely to end the fiscal year with a $2 million budget surplus, the department's top fiscal officer acknowledged last week.

Although he stressed that it was too early to make a definitive projection, Maj. Steven A. Crumrine, director of the department's fiscal division, said the department looks to save $2 million from lower costs for health benefits and retirement savings.

The acknowledgment of the expected surplus for the fiscal year, which ends June 30, comes as the City Council prepares to take up Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's proposal to raise the piggyback income tax rate from 50 percent to 52 percent to pay for 120 more officers. The plan would raise $4 million a year and cost the average taxpayer $18 a year.

Opponents and supporters of the tax increase applauded news of the anticipated surplus -- but for different reasons.

Councilman Martin O'Malley, a 3rd District Democrat who opposes the tax increase, said, "It's great in the sense we have half the money we need. If they have money, they don't need more money."

Mr. O'Malley, who contends the surplus could be as much as $4 million, plans to introduce a resolution to the council today asking the public safety committee to investigate the surplus and its relationship to hiring officers.

But Council Vice President Vera P. Hall, who backs the tax increase, said, "This is good news. The amount we were going to get from the piggyback increase was not going to be enough to do everything we needed.

"I have maintained all along that we need to find every dollar we can. I was looking for the money from the piggyback and more. This [crime] problem is not a small problem. It's a very big problem," said Ms. Hall, a 5th District Democrat.

Administration officials are not ready to concede that a substantial surplus will occur.

William R. Brown, the city's finance director, said such factors as unexpected retirements -- with employees cashing in accumulated leave -- make definitive year-end projections difficult.

"It's a very fluid situation. It's not cut and dried," Mr. Brown said.

Even if a surplus were to occur, he said, it would not eliminate the need for a tax increase as a stable source of funding for additional officers.

"Let's say there was a surplus. That's a one-time source of money. That money does not recur from year to year," Mr. Brown said.

"When the mayor advocates increasing the piggyback tax, it is to produce money to put 120 officers on the street," he said.

The expected $2 million surplus represents slightly more than 1 percent of the Police Department's budget of $174 million for fiscal 1993.

Last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 1992, city agencies finished with an undesignated surplus of about $2.5 million -- which reverted to the general fund -- from an operating budget of about $1.7 billion.

The Police Department finished fiscal 1992 having spent $5.1 million less than was budgeted -- about $170 million.

But that surplus was earmarked for the department's share of that year's cut in state funds, budget officials said.

In its midyear report for the current fiscal year, city budget officials said that the Police Department was spending $3.4 million less than was budgeted. That included the $1.4 million cut earlier this year because of further reductions in state aid, officials said. The department absorbed that cut by keeping 47 funded positions vacant, they said.

The department had 2,880 sworn officers at the end of last month, 159 below its authorized strength of 3,039, said police spokesman Sam Ringgold. The police academy is scheduled to graduate 40 officers May 7, Mr. Ringgold said. (Those 40 are not among the 120 new officers to be funded by a piggyback increase.)

Until late last week, budget officials were willing to acknowledge only that the department would save enough money to make up the $1.4 million cut by the state.

But on Friday, Major Crumrine said that, based on figures through the first eight months of the fiscal year, the midyear projections "look accurate." He said that the department could finish with a $2 million surplus, but that the amount could be reduced by such factors as unexpected overtime pay.

Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher said only, "If the [midyear] projection is accurate, there could be a surplus of $2 million."

Councilman O'Malley forecast a $4 million surplus by doubling the midyear projection. But Major Crumrine said that the surplus "has not grown and will not be doubled."

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