Tug of war over school construction spending raised at hearing

February 16, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Judging from the approximately 35 people who turned out for Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall's budget hearing, the major concerns of residents in the western part of the county are recreational trails and libraries.

Twelve people addressed Mr. Neall at the sparsely attended meeting at Meade Senior High School, the first of three scheduled for next fiscal year's budget. But none mentioned some of the hotter issues that face county officials: siting a new detention center, building a stadium for the Washington Redskins in Laurel or the possibility of using an incinerator to burn the county's trash.

John C. Andrews Jr. of Fort Meade did touch on an issue that will receive considerable attention as the 1995 fiscal year budget is put together: the tug of war between the county and the Board of Education over money for school construction.

Mr. Andrews urged that as much money as possible be spent on schools. "Let us not be shortsighted," he said. "We will save tax dollars in the long run by preparing the children of today for the challenges of tomorrow."

Mr. Neall noted in his opening remarks that he only has about $50 million in bonds, impact fees and state and federal grants to spend on capital projects in this budget.

"To put this figure in perspective, you should know that the Board of Education has made a preliminary request of $85 million from this administration for education projects alone," Mr. Neall said. "So it's trying to get the proverbial 10 pounds of manure in a 5-pound bag."

Mr. Neall told the gathering that the operating budget would increase by about 7 percent, or $47 million, to $710 million.

But he added that most of the increase will be taken up by personnel costs, including raises for county employees.

Mr. Neall also noted that the property tax cap enacted by county voters in November 1992, and the County Council's lowering of the tax rate by 8 cents last May, reduced property tax revenue by about $15 million, "money which might have been used for some of the programs and activities you're here to speak about tonight."

The majority of speakers urged Mr. Neall to commit additional county funds to acquire the necessary rights of way to construct and maintain recreational trails, including the WB&A Trail, which when completed would run from Baltimore Washington International Airport to Bowie.

"As the county is becoming more and more developed, we're losing more and more places to ride," said Kirsten Enzinger of Harwood.

But Elizabeth Sroka of Millersville, who owns land abutting the proposed trail, asked Mr. Neall to consider the concerns of property owners. "I feel like this is an invasion of privacy," she said.

Two speakers, including Roberta Morgan, urged Mr. Neall to approve money for a new library at Russett Center. Ms. Morgan said the developer of Russett, who has offered to donate land for the library, might change his mind if the county doesn't approve construction money this year.

"I would really hate to see the property go to some other kind of commercial space because the library got stalled," she said.

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