Leaner revenues yield a surprising harmony in building county budget

May 26, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

In years past when County Auditor Joseph H. Novotny presented his recommendations to the County Council, he wielded the budget ax with a heavy hand.

This year, reflecting the surprisingly harmonious budget session, Novotny and County Executive Robert R. Neall's administration have already agreed to nearly $1 million in cuts to the proposed $711 million operating budget.

Mr. Novotny said there was little controversy because the budget is lean, thanks to reduced revenues caused by the property tax cap and income and recordation taxes that brought in less than estimated.

The cuts were matched dollar for dollar by a $965,000 supplemental budget submitted by Mr. Neall. Among other things, the supplemental budget seeks:

* $200,000 for four officers to be added to the 12 new officers already in the budget.

* $500,000 for the Advanced School Automation Project, which will place computer labs in every county school and link them together through Internet. The school board requested $1.6 million for the project.

* $50,000 toward the renovation of St. John's College library.

* $30,000 for underground water tanks at The Downs, a community on the Severn River north of Annapolis, for use as a water source for the fire department.

* An additional $25,000 for the Harundale Youth Center, bringing its total grant to $103,310.

Cuts in the operating budget include $300,000 for four relocatable classrooms at George Fox Middle School and a $200,000 reduction in the payment to shore up the financially troubled pension fund for elected and appointed officials.

Mr. Novotny is recommending an additional $3.2 million in cuts to the Board of Education's operating budget to fund a longevity pay increase for school employees, which administration officials said they would not oppose. The pay increases were negotiated by the school employees unions and the board, but were not funded by Mr. Neall.

"Our position would be if the decision is to give the longevity and it's funded out of the $408 million Board of Education budget, that's fine," said Walter N. Chitwood, Mr. Neall's chief administrative officer. The administration would only oppose the longevity raises if they are funded out of the county's general fund, he said.

If Mr. Novotny was conciliatory on the operating budget, he could not resist a few pointed remarks about the county's $165.7 million capital budget.

"We need priorities to find out where we're going to spend these monies. And if it's going to be schools, we need to say so," he said. "Something is going to have to be done. We do not have the money to keep on going the way we are."

Although he made no recommendation to cut the $55 million circuit courthouse project, $24 million of which is requested in the proposed budget, he complained about the cost and wondered if the courthouse could be built cheaper.

"I can't help but say, 'Do we need a 1,500-square-foot courtroom for every judge,' " he said.

He also questioned using a 30-year bond to fund the courthouse, instead of the normal 20-year bond. Mr. Chitwood agreed that a shorter-term bond is appropriate for most projects, but not for the courthouse because such an expensive project requires a lower annual debt service.

Mr. Novotny also recommended against spending $1.2 million to match state money for planning a jail annex in Glen Burnie and renovating the jail on Jennifer Road. A new county executive and council could change the project. The jail project is hardly in danger, because it presumably still has the same four votes that won its approval in March.

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