Harford's Healthy Budget

April 15, 1994

What a difference the election-year cycle makes. The new Harford County budget proposed by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann includes cost-of-living raises for county employees (verboten in the first two years of her administration) and money to restore public library operating hours cut last year in an act of fiscal prudence.

It's not just the four-year election cycle, though. The economy is moving toward recovery again, the shell-shock from stiff reductions in state aid has been accommodated, the imperative for a catch-up program in construction needs has been met. That allows for a looser hand on the reins, even if the executive predictably declares the 1994-95 budget to be "no-fat".

In her first term, Mrs. Rehrmann has capably managed the county's budget with a tight hold on spending and an eye toward a hefty surplus at year's end, ostensibly to impress the county's bond buyers, but also to provide for emergency and future needs. (Her first budget even reduced spending from the previous year.) That meant forgoing pay raises for county workers for two years, among other things, but it also avoided the heavy layoffs of municipal employees that has occurred elsewhere.

On the capital side, borrowing has substantially increased in her administration as growth slowed down in the '90s, to spread out the impact of construction, but high-rate bond issues have been retired to save the county money.

In the proposed budget, which begins July 1, the lion's share of operating funds will continue to go to education. Another 85 teachers will be added, to staff two new schools in September and to reduce class sizes. The budget allocates $9.5 million for the growing needs of school building renovation and construction.

Increases will be seen in public safety areas, from road patrol deputies to crossing guards to jail officers. Senior citizen centers will expand. The library increase is minimal, however, and falls notably short of the county's growing needs.

Property tax rates are unchanged at $2.73 for the 11th straight year, under the proposed budget. The piggyback income tax rate is also stable, and fees will be kept at current levels. User fees for everything from water to real estate sales to trash disposal, have been raised over the past four years to increase revenues without hiking general taxes.

This new budget reflects the pains and gains of the past three years and amply demonstrates the good health of Harford County's finances.

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