School cuts are 'tough' to restore Pendergrass hopes to regain $2 million

May 07, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass told the school board last night it would be "tough" for the council to restore $5.3 million that the county executive cut from the proposed operating budget for education.

Ms. Pendergrass, D-1st, told the board she hopes to get $2 million more for education if she and other council members can convince County Executive Charles I. Ecker to make a $3.1 million contingency reserve available for salaries.

"I would like to help you in some way," she said.

Mr. Ecker said last month that the contingency reserve in his proposed $289 million budget would be used for employee raises provided the increase in the 1993 state income tax revenue is 10 percent or more than last year.

Ms. Pendergrass said she is worried that the tax increase could amount to 9.9 percent or some slightly lower figure.

She asked the executive to consider an alternate plan that would give employees a smaller raise if the tax revenue fell below projections.

The county will not learn the amount of the increase in income tax until late September.

Mr. Ecker said yesterday he was opposed to transferring the salary contingency fund to the proposed budget "at this time."

Once an appropriation is made to the Board of Education it cannot be reduced, he said.

Such a transfer now could commit the county to a spending level it may not be able to support, he said.

Although the council can restore what Mr. Ecker cut from the education budget, it must pay for that restoration by raising the property tax or local income rate or by making cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Ms. Pendergrass told the school board that finding cuts elsewhere in the budget is very difficult. "The traditional places to look for large chunks of money are not there," she said.

"It appears as though the council is looking for a way of restoring some funds," said James R. Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, which represents teachers and some other school system employees.

"They may find a way or they may not. The $5.33 million cut was excessive and, if at all possible, the council should restore as much as possible."

Judging from the discussion with department heads outside the school system yesterday, the restoration may not be possible without a tax increase.

In past years, for example, vehicles were a favorite target. Yesterday, they became a protected class during a budget work session that began at 9 a.m. and continued into the night.,

"We're burning the candle at both ends," Police Chief James N. Robey told the council. Although the department has about 280 cars, 43 have been driven more than 100,000 miles. By this time next year, 78 will have passed the 100,000 mile mark, and by April 1995, 122 will have passed it.

The fiscal 1994 budget contains money for only eight new police vehicles, however, and the current budget has money for only 17.

County policy, which has been put on hold during the recession, is to replenish a fifth of the police fleet every year.

If that policy were still in effect, the police department would be asking for 56 new cars in the proposed budget instead of eight.

The story in the Department of Public Works was not much better. Trash compacters at the landfill, for example, last about five years. If the county does not buy a new one at $580,000 this year, it will lose a $180,000 discount.

What about sending the trash outside the county, council members wanted to know.

That would cost $5 million more, said Public Works director James M. Irvin. It would cost about $50 a ton to bury local trash in someone else's landfill, he said.

The council will resume its work sessions on the proposed

budget on Monday. It will set the property tax rate and vote on both the capital and operating spending plans May 20.

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