Compromise set on computer funds

May 20, 1994|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Sun Staff Writer

The county would spend $4.7 million to equip older schools with new computers and other technology over the next three years, under a compromise worked out earlier this week between the County Council and County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

The agreement clears the way for a County Council vote Monday on a budget package calling for $313 million in operating funds and $61 million in capital funds in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

The county would finance the $4.7 million in new school equipment by selling general obligation bonds that would be repaid over five years.

"Given the information age we're in, we cannot let any of our schools' technology slip to such a state that would put our kids way behind," said council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, 3rd District Democrat.

He and several other council members had urged Mr. Ecker to authorize the technology program as a way of restoring some of the $4.3 million Mr. Ecker cut from the school board's request for funds for next year.

The board originally had asked for $166.6 million in local operating funds in the coming fiscal year.

Restoring the money required some tricky political maneuvering, however.

The council can't put back money Mr. Ecker has cut from the school budget without raising taxes or cutting other county programs.

As a result, council members had planned to trim funding for such items as highway snow removal and police overtime if Mr. Ecker did not agree to come up with the technology money.

Mr. Ecker, who has sought to keep county borrowing below the level of previous years, met several times with Mr. Gray before reaching the agreement on Wednesday. The compromise came the same day the council was to begin cutting some of Mr. Ecker's other requests.

The compromise would provide $1.6 million for new technology in fiscal 1995, which begins July 1, and $2.1 million and $1 million in fiscal 1996 and 1997, respectively.

"I'm grateful for that," said school board Chairman Dana F. Hanna of the agreement. "It's the same timing we were looking to with our original request of $1.6 million for this year."

Mr. Hanna said the borrowing agreement will make planning easier by earmarking future technology funding. The disadvantage is that about $600,000 in related costs, such as setting up rooms for computers, will have to be paid for out of the operating budget, he said.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Ecker insisted that the council not raise the technology funds by cutting money for roads. Council members had been planning to tap a fund the county uses to speed construction of state highway projects that the state has not yet funded.

Also as part of the compromise, Mr. Ecker required the school board to produce an inventory of current equipment and come up with plans and policies for providing new and replacement equipment.

The council is scheduled to set the tax rate and vote on the county budget at noon Monday.

The school technology program agreed to this week is a separate, though related, item and probably will be voted on before the council's August break, Mr. Gray said.

"I would like to see each school that has a need . . . get something in fiscal year 1995," Mr. Gray said.

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