Neall's Surprisingly Bright Budget

May 06, 1993

For a budget that was supposed to be synonymous with doom and gloom, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall's $668.6 million spending plan for fiscal year 1994 is a surprisingly cheery document.

It sounds impossible, but somehow he has managed to lay off more than 100 workers even while keeping most of them employed. (This is complicated, but suffice it to say that most of those who would lose their jobs should be able to get other ones in county government).

He fully funded the Board of Education's request, with a $34.7 million increase over this year. That includes money for 144 new, sorely needed elementary school positions. He also presented the largest capital school budget in county history, with construction money for Deale, Solley and Meade Heights elementaries. Libraries are getting $1 million more, too.

The residential property-tax rate is going down by 4 cents, to $2.42 per $100 of assessed value. Mr. Neall's "rainy day" fund for emergencies is going up by $2 million to $12 million.

All this in the face of a property tax cap and changes at the state level which forced the county to assume responsibility for $13 million in Social Security costs for teachers, librarians and community college workers. Give Mr. Neall credit for reorganizing and streamlining the government -- actions that are unpopular with unions and many politicians, but which 70 percent of voters indicated they wanted by approving the tax cap. Give him credit, too, for doing the dirty work instead of leaving a mess for his successor.

Naturally, his budget contains its share of nasty stuff. For the third straight year, there are no cost-of-living increases for county workers, which will provoke a huge outcry at County Council hearings. Someone will suggest raiding the rainy day fund to provide them, but that would be a mistake, and wouldn't LTC amount to more than a token.

One questionable omission is funding for the Careers Center, which provides job training for juvenile offenders. Considering the county's jail crowding dilemma, Mr. Neall ought to be more receptive to such alternative sentencing programs.

All in all, there is little to criticize in his budget, though. His priorities are correct. And he's produced some radical changes in government with less pain than one would have thought possible.

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