Department heads tell council budget is tight

April 29, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

Echoing County Executive Charles I. Ecker's comment when he unveiled his proposed operating budget last week, department heads reminded the County Council last night that money is tight.

Although the proposed $315 million spending plan for fiscal 1995 is $26.2 million more than the current operating budget, most of the department heads said the increase would not benefit their agencies as much as they wanted.

The agencies benefiting most from the proposed increase are the Police Department, which wants to add 20 new officers; the Department of Corrections, which wants to hire 27 new officers to staff a 205-bed expansion at the detention center; and the library, which wants 26 people to staff an east Columbia branch

due to open in August.

Other department heads said they would try to increase services within the proposed budget.

State's Attorney William R. Hymes said he would get $8,370 less than last year for his office but faces an increased workload.

"It appears to me someone will be back in January or February to ask for money" to keep the office going, he said. Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo told a similar story. "I expect to visit you in the spring," he said.

An additional Circuit Court judge will mean more trials, more police officers will mean more arrests and more corrections officers will mean more prisoners in the detention center, the sheriff said. "It's a domino effect."

Police Chief James N. Robey said violent crime is down 3.4 percent, but the cost of police protection has increased 6 percent in the last year. The 20 new officers would come from the county police academy and would not be expected to graduate until next summer, he said.

Patrick Dornan of the Howard County Taxpayers Association gave the council a very different picture.

"I have examined Mr. Ecker's austere budget and find it hardly austere," he said. "Massive increases far exceed the ability of taxpayers to keep up."

Mr. Dornan criticized salary increases for county employees that in some instances could amount to 5.5 percent, saying, "We in the private sector don't get salary increases every year,and many in the private sector do not have jobs."

Salaries of some department heads are "excessive," he said, adding that the county could save a lot of money if the council grants salary increases only to people making less than $61,000 a year.

The council will take up the education portion of Mr. Ecker's proposed budget at a 9 a.m. hearing tomorrow. Three more public hearings are scheduled in early May.

The council will vote on the budget and set the property tax rate at noon May 23. The rate Mr. Ecker proposed is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value, the same as this year.

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