Neall bids emotional farewell

May 03, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Robert R. Neall, in his final budget address, gave an emotional farewell yesterday to the county he has led for four years, highlighting his accomplishment of maintaining services while cutting the size of government.

"I don't mind telling you, this is the hardest thing I've ever done. Only time will tell whether we were successful or not," Mr. Neall said, his voice cracking with emotion.

"I only know that I've done my best and I'm deeply grateful for the opportunity."

The crowd of about 150, which included the County Council, several General Assembly members, Mr. Neall's family and dozens of county officials, responded with a standing ovation.

Mr. Neall, who has said that he will not seek re-election, presented a $711 million operating budget to the council that includes major spending increases in education and a drop of 3 cents in the property tax rate, to $2.35 per $100 of assessed

value. The average home in Anne Arundel, worth $140,106, would receive a $1,317 tax bill, an increase of $26.

During his 40-minute address, Mr. Neall stressed his ability to hold the line on overall spending -- although he increased money for education -- during a period when the economy was in recession and he was saddled with a property tax cap.

Expenditures in the four years of his administration grew by a scant 3.6 percent during each year of his administration, compared with a 9.7 percent annual growth during the 1980s, he said.

"This is Page 1 of the Neall years," the county executive said as he led the gathering through an overhead projection of a five-year history of revenues and expenditures. "Everybody's been waiting for me to publish my book. This is Page 1."

From the beginning of his administration until now, Mr. Neall pointed out that the county operating budget grew by $93 million.

"Look at where the money went: $78.5 million of the $93 million budget increase went to the Board of Education," he said.

Mr. Neall also highlighted the 11.5 percent reduction in the county's work force, which was accomplished by eliminating 507 positions, mostly through attrition and not filling vacant jobs.

"If you want to know where some of that went," Mr. Neall said, look at the schools. "We've added almost 371 positions to the Board of Education," he said.

Mr. Neall also submitted an ambitious $166 million capital budget that includes $98 million in general county projects -- the biggest being $24 million for a new Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis -- $31 million for solid waste disposal and $37 million for utilities. The capital budget in the current fiscal year is $99.5 million.

Council reaction to the budget was generally positive, which might indicate smooth sailing for the proposal, a marked difference from the rancor of budget sessions in recent years.

"I think the budget is fiscally responsible," said Councilman David G. Boschert, a Crownsville Democrat who has announced his candidacy for the House of Delegates. "I believe this will be one of the most harmonious 30-day periods . . . in the 10 years I've been on the council."

Councilwoman Diane Evans said she was glad to see $4 million dedicated to road resurfacing, which she alone supported last year.

"I think it is very important to maintain our infrastructure and roads are part of that infrastructure," said Ms. Evans, an Arnold Republican.

But there could be some tough scrutiny of the more expensive capital projects.

Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Democrat, said he has some reservations about the courthouse and $3.3 million in planning money for the addition to Broadneck High School.

"They're big cost items when you're talking about property tax caps," Mr. Middlebrooks said.

Councilwoman Maureen Lamb also lamented the increase in the property tax rate for Annapolis residents, who are charged a different rate because they also pay property taxes to the city.

Although county residents will pay 3 cents less per $100 of assessed value, Annapolis residents will be charged 8 cents more.

County finance officer John Hammond told the council that the increase was necessary because of the decrease in assessments to Annapolis homeowners. But homeowners' tax bills should remain basically the same.

"I understand the reason," Ms. Lamb, an Annapolis Democrat, said after an afternoon budget hearing. "But I'm going to speak to [the administration] at length about this to see if any movement is possible."

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