Hayden budget contains raises, no tax increase

April 14, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County executive Roger B. Hayden's election year budget has something for everyone.

No property tax increase, larger than expected pay increases for county workers, more teachers, computers and school expansion projects, and a slightly larger county police force -- all wrapped in a $1.26 billion package he presented to the County Council today.

The budget comes in just $400,000 under the County Council's 4.8 percent limit on annual spending increases.

If that isn't enough after three years of bad fiscal news, Mr. Hayden also announced an initiative to conserve and revitalize older county neighborhoods.

This is such a high priority, the executive said, that planning director P. David Fields will leave his job and spend his time preparing a plan that would be financed by a 1996 bond referendum -- if the voters approve and Mr. Hayden is reelected.

In an unprecedented move, County Council Chairman William A. Howard did not allow any comments on the proposed budget from council members.

With two Democratic council members running for the Republican Mr. Hayden's job this year, Mr. Howard, also a Republican, conceded that cutting off council comments could have been related to the election.

In announcing his Fiscal 1995 plan, Mr. Hayden said his administration had "passed through the worst fiscal storm in Baltimore County's history . . . a storm of state budget cuts and national economic turmoil unknown to any of my predecessors."

With income tax revenues now running higher than expected, all county workers except teachers will get a straight 4 percent pay increase, if the County Council approves. Teachers will get 3 percent across-the-board and another 1 percent to use for salary restructuring.

Overall, the increase is greater than the 3 percent union leaders were told they would get earlier this week, and a far more than they've seen during the last three years of furloughs, layoffs and frozen salaries.

Mr. Hayden wants to increase the authorized strength of the police force by 20 positions to 1,502 sworn officers, and he's agreed to allow 31 officers to drive county cruisers home when they're off duty -- a benefit many other suburban departments provide. A new fire department medic unit would also be placed at the Garrison station.

Saying he had been "deeply pained" by his inability to spend more on education as county executive after serving 12 years on the school board, Mr. Hayden had good news for the schools, too.

The education budget will increase by $27 million. That's well below the $46 million increase the school board requested, but much of the difference is accounted for by the disparity between Mr. Hayden's 4 percent pay package and a higher 6 percent increase the school board had requested.

The budget would provide 263 new teachers 45 other school positions. There's money for 360 new computers, and $10.2 million more for instructional materials, which includes $5.2 million the board wanted to spend on schools in lower-income neighborhoods.

Mr. Hayden also added $850,000 more for daily school maintenance, including $100,000 especially for Kenwood High School in Essex.

The county's library users also had something to smile about for a change. After closing the Loch Raven branch and eight mini-libraries and cutting Sunday hours at many branches as part of a massive 1993 budget reduction, the executive in cluded enough money in 1994-95 to open the North Point, White Marsh, Cockeysville, Randallstown and Catonsville branches every Sunday from October through March. The Towson branch will remain the only one open on Sunday all year round.

There is even $2.9 million more allocated to the county's "rainy day fund."

County budget director Fred Mr. Homan said revenues grew only 2.7 percent overall, but greater than expected growth in income tax revenues in this budget year added $14 million to that officials didn't expect.

If Mr. Hayden's plan survives the council intact, the county will wind up on June 30, 1995, with a $16 million surplus, he said.

The County Council will hold a public budget hearing on the plan at 7 p.m. May 3 at Loch Raven High School, 1212 Cowpens Ave. The council must make any cuts and adopt a new tax rate by June 1.

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