Budget compromise plan spares some programs

May 15, 1994|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Sun Staff Writer

For a while Friday, it looked as if the Democrats on the County Council were going to tell County Executive Charles I. Ecker to do the budget their way or else.

The "or else" is a $1.6 million cut of some key programs in the noneducation part of Mr. Ecker's proposed $313 million 1995 operating budget.

Instead, Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and Council members Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, and Darrel Drown, R-2nd, worked out a compromise plan to add $2.1 million to the school budget now and another $1.1 million in January, without having to cut the remainder of the budget.

Mr. Ecker cut $4.3 million from the school board's $166.6 million request for local funding and the council is looking for the most painless way to restore most of that money.

The council can accept or cut what Mr. Ecker proposed in noneducation spending but cannot increase it.

And the council can restore money the executive cut from the Board of Education request. To do that, however, lawmakers would have to raise taxes or cut from other areas.

The council compromise will depend on the cooperation of Mr. Ecker, who said he would add $1.1 million to the school budget in January if local income tax revenues exceed this year's revenues by 10 percent.

The plan calls for the council to transfer $1.6 million from the school board's operating budget to the school board's capital budget and $537,000 from the school board's capital budget to the school board's operating budget.

The transfer of the $1.6 million from the operating to the capital budget would mean that the county would sell five-year bonds to raise money to put older schools on a technological par with newer ones. The proposal will have to go to the county Planning Board for a recommendation before the council can act on it. The earliest the council could act on the transfer would be July.

Since four of the five council members would have to approve the transfer, the three Democrats needed help from one of the council's two Republicans.

Mr. Drown said he'd go along with the proposal as long as money wasn't taken from other needed capital projects to fund the school request.

Lawmakers spent most of the work session bickering over that point. When an apparent deal came apart, the Democrats told Mr. Drown they didn't need his help and would go ahead with a proposal to reduce overtime for police, eliminate the county press officer, cut 10 new employees, trim reserves for snow removal and slash the county's self-insurance fund.

Mr. Drown, who had earlier proposed a compromise of his own, told Democrats they could cut where they want and left the meeting.

Shortly afterward, he, Ms. Pendergrass and Mr. Gray worked out their differences. "We have an understanding on the budget," Mr. Drown said.

"Somebody came to the table with a compromise other than Vernon and I," Ms. Pendergrass said. "If one option works and another doesn't I can go with the one that works. I can live with that."

For now, the option that appears to work is the one calling for a transfer of $1.6 million to the capital budget and $537,000 to the operating budget. Council members plan to send a letter to that effect to Mr. Ecker on Monday morning.

Still, it is not the option that school board Chairman Dana F. Hanna wanted.

"This is not where I hoped we would end up," he said. "Our budget was reasonable in light of the needs. I can't imagine how we can absorb that cut without some reduction" in the quality of next year's educational program.

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