Balto. Co. Council bickers, but approves budget

May 24, 1994|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun Staff Writer

A bickering group of Baltimore County Council members formally adopted a new $1.26 billion budget on a 6-1 vote, and approved new salaries for the next council and executive today in Towson.

The budget, as revealed last week, is virtually unchanged from County Executive Roger B. Hayden's proposal April 14, except for a one-cent cut in the property tax rate, from $2.865 to $2.855 per $100 of assessed value.

The rate cut means the average county homeowner's tax bill will rise only $27, instead of $31.

Slowly rising state assessments are the reason that tax bills will be higher, even though the tax rate will decrease.

That one-penny cut produced more public sniping and arguing on the seven-member council than any other issue in the past 3 1/2 years, however.

Dundalk's Councilman Donald C. Mason voted against the spending plan for the third consecutive time, complaining that government spending and taxes are going up when they should be going down.

That brought a jab from Towson Councilman Douglas B. Riley, who joked that this is the first time Mr. Mason has voted against a tax rate reduction.

Mr. Riley, Perry Hall Councilman Vincent Gardina, and Timonium councilman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger all publicly criticized the majority decision to cut the tax rate by 1 cent instead of using the $1.5 million that cut represents to add more police and teachers.

Mr. Hayden was willing to reallocate funds the council cut to hire more police officers, Mr. Riley pointed out, but there was no fourth vote for that. He singled out Catonsville's Berchie Lee Manley for first seeming to agree, but then refusing after a plea from chairman William A. Howard 4th, who was determined to cut the tax rate.

Ruppersberger said he voted for the budget "with great reluctance," because he wanted to add more police on the streets rather than save taxpayers $4 each for the year. Mr. Gardina, himself a former police officer, publicly ridiculed the 1-cent cut, saying he was "appalled" at what he considered an election year move by his colleagues. "Leadership demanded that the welfare of the county come first, not the election," he said.

Mr. Gardina then said he planned to buy two fast-food hamburger sandwiches on his way home as his way of using his property tax reduction. Pikesville's Melvin G. Mintz, a penny tax cut advocate, chided him in return, however. "Thanks for your vote," he said, referring to Mr. Gardina's vote for the budget.

Mrs. Manley then defended herself, saying her decision to support the tax rate cut was based on the council's 1992 pledge to cut taxes whenever possible after raising the piggy-back income tax that year. That pledge was the basis for Mr. Howard's position, too, he said.

In addition to the budget, the council also approved bills that would have new County Council members elected in November earning the same $30,900 a year that members now are accepting. The new county executive, however, would officially earn $90,000 a year. Mr. Hayden is now accepting $75,920 a year and has said he will take whatever pay raises are granted to general county employees.

Mr. Mintz voted against the executive-salary bill. He and Mr. Ruppersberger are running for county executive this year.

Despite the bickering over the largely symbolic tax cut, all the council members agreed that Mr. Hayden's budget will help the county recover from the severe cuts of the recession by providing more police, teachers and firefighters, and by concentrating on school needs.

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