Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said yesterday he isn't going to cut money for school construction by 10 percent in the coming fiscal year after all.
Mr. Ecker had said last week that the amended capital budget he planned to send the County Council this week would include cuts of up to 10 percent on unbid construction projects in both the education and noneducation portion of the proposed budget for fiscal 1994.
But the $81.7 million amended capital budget proposal Mr. Ecker sent the council yesterday contained no such school cuts for fiscal 1994. The cuts do appear in later years.
"All of the schools [in the fiscal 1994 budget] are under construction or are in design and could not be cut," Mr. Ecker said yesterday.
Instead of cutting, Mr. Ecker increased spending for education by $8.3 million for fiscal 1994. He did follow through with his plan to cut noneducational construction, however, slashing $2.5 million from his earlier proposal.
Mr. Ecker's amended proposal averts, at least for this year, a fight with the school board.
"This is welcome news," said School Board Chairman Dana F. Hanna. "I thought it was a little late to be tinkering."
Mr. Ecker had said last week he wanted the school construction cuts because he thought the county is paying too much for buildings that may become obsolete in 15 to 20 years. Mr. Hanna had opposed that idea as "ludicrous."
School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey learned from the executive yesterday morning that Mr. Ecker was fully funding the school board's capital budget request.
"I told him, 'Good! That gives me a year to change your mind,' " Mr. Hickey said. "He has to have some stronger rationale for making the cuts. I'm going to try to provide him as much data as possible."
Mr. Hickey said he would be working with his business advisory committee to look at needed buildings in an attempt to reduce costs.
The $37.8 million school board request amounts to 46 percent of Mr. Ecker's total capital budget proposal for fiscal 1994.
"I understand the school board cannot each year take the lion's ** share of capital expenditures," Mr. Hanna said.
Mr. Hanna said he does not intend this year to oppose Mr. Ecker's plan to cut school construction by 10 percent in future capital budgets. "Each year is a single mountain that we have to climb successfully," he said.
The money Mr. Ecker restored to the education portion of the budget includes $6.6 million received last week in state aid.
The state money will allow the county to complete construction of a western high school and northeastern middle school, and pay for renovations to an Ellicott City elementary school.
Mr. Ecker also added $3 million more in county bonds in his amended proposal. The additional money will be used for the renovation and expansion of Bollman Bridge and Longfellow elementary schools and roof repair at Hammond High School and Guilford and Phelps Luck elementary schools.
Mr. Ecker cut unbid road construction projects and unbid building construction projects 10 percent in his amended capital budget proposal for fiscal 1994. The road cuts will be made at the design level with no reduction in safety, he said.
The council can restore money the executive cuts from the school system request. The council can only accept or cut further what Mr. Ecker proposes in the noneducation portion of the budget.
The council will hold a work session on the noneducation portion of the capital budget proposal at 10 a.m. today. It will hold a public hearing on the school board capital and operating budget requests at 9 a.m. on Saturday.
The council will set the property tax rate and vote on the fiscal 1994 capital and operating budgets May 20. The fiscal year begins July 1.