County budget proposes pay raises, planetarium

April 03, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

The county executive's proposed operating budget for fiscal 1995 includes something for almost everyone: raises for employees, a planetarium for the school system and money for longer library hours -- with no increase in property or income taxes.

The overall budget package of $237.3 million, which Eileen M. Rehrmann released Friday, includes $62 million for the highway, water and sewer, and solid waste budgets.

Mrs. Rehrmann also released her proposed $50 million capital budget Friday.

The $175 million operating budget, which would take effect July 1, covers various departments, including administration and the Harford County Board of Education.

Fiscal 1994's operating budget was about $160 million, or about 10 percent lower.

"This is a no-fat budget," said Mrs. Rehrmann, a Democrat who will be running for another term in the Nov. 14 election.

The County Council has the final word on the budget and may take money from any department and add it to the school system's budget. The seven-member council, whose members are also up for re-election in November, can cut funding for any department but education.

The Rev. Jeffrey D. Wilson, the council president and a Republican, was critical of Mrs. Rehrmann's budget because, he contends, she is manipulating money, by handing out raises and increasing school spending, for example, to ensure her re-election.

"She was waving a tin can in the air to show how poor the county was when she came into office and suddenly she has money to spend," Mr. Wilson said.

"She has squeezed taxpayers for every penny and now she pulls the rabbit out of her hat and says she has money because of her 'financial wisdom.' "

Mr. Wilson said he is upset that Mrs. Rehrmann has insisted on maintaining a 5 percent "rainy day fund." Mrs. Rehrmann said the $8.5 million she is setting aside for next year shows prudent money management.

Mr. Wilson said the money should be controlled jointly by the council and the county executive.

Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, said he was generally pleased with Mrs. Rehrmann's budget.

"I'm surprised Mrs. Rehrmann managed to stretch the budget as far as she did," he said.

However, Mr. Wagner said he would study the budget in depth, particularly the school system's portion.

"If you look at overall increases, that doesn't tell you anything. What I want to do is go over it line by line so I can see where the money is going," he said.

The school system would get $220,000 for a new planetarium at Edgewood High School, according to Mrs. Rehrmann's budget.

The school system did not ask for the planetarium and said it was a low priority, but the Harford County Council of PTAs, which has more than 15,000 members, lobbied heavily for it.

The school system had asked Mrs. Rehrmann for $101 million, a $14 million increase. She gave it $96.4 million, an $8.9 million boost over fiscal 1994's $87 million, according to the budget figures.

That didn't surprise school board member George Lisby. "I never expected the county would fully fund our budget," he said.

Mr. Lisby said the school system would find ways to trim the budget without affecting classroom services.

He said he was pleased Mrs. Rehrmann had allocated money for 85 new teaching positions.

The system needs 71 new teachers to maintain class size. The additional positions could be used to hire guidance counselors or more teachers to bring down class size, he said.

Mrs. Rehrmann's budget would give teachers and other county employees, such as library workers or employees at Harford Community College, 3 percent across-the-board raises and merit raises.

The raises are part of a $7.4 million salary package that includes $120,000 to boost the pay of deputies and $240,000 to increase the pay of correctional officers at Harford Detention Center. The raises would bring their wages in line with those of law enforcement officers in surrounding counties.

The Sheriff's Office would get 25 new positions, including four school crossing guards for Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp and Emmorton Elementary in Abingdon. The two schools are scheduled to open Sept. 7.

The budget also includes money to hire eight deputies to bolster road patrols. The positions of eight correctional officers, who were hired six months ago, would become permanent.

"Over and over again citizens have told me they are concerned about the increasing crime in the county," Mrs. Rehrmann said.

Harford's libraries would get $200,000 for new books and $240,000 to hire new workers or make existing part-time positions full time.

Mrs. Rehrmann said the $240,000 would allow the library to stay open later.

The library was forced to cut back hours because of budget cuts.

James M. Jewell, the county treasurer, said he expected property and income tax revenue to increase by about 5 percent.

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