Council approves budget

May 27, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Anne Arundel's County Council yesterday approved a $711 million operating budget for the 1995 fiscal year that includes a 3-cent cut in the property tax and a pay raise for county employees.

The budget session, one of the most congenial in recent memory, left County Executive Robert R. Neall's $163.5 million capital budget virtually intact. The plan includes $24 million to begin design and construction work on a new Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis.

As Mr. Neall proposed, the property tax rate will drop 3 cents to $2.35 per $100 of assessed value. Because of an overall increase in assessments, the tax bill for the average home, worth $150,000, will increase by $26 a year to $1,317.

"I'm delighted and relieved that the County Council spent a month looking at [the budget] and if anything, they improved upon it," a relaxed Mr. Neall, who shed his coat and tie in favor of a green polo shirt, said after the council's vote.

A spirit of cooperation between Mr. Neall's administration, the county auditor's office and the council characterized the budget session. In years past, the session has been the scene of political squabbling, with the council approving the budget just before midnight on the last day of the month.

Last year, the council made substantial cuts on the last day of the budget session to set aside money for employee pay raises (( and lower the tax rate an additional 4 cents. Mr. Neall already had proposed a 4-cent cut.

Yesterday, the session was over in three hours, and council members made it home in time for dinner.

Even potential problems, such as increases in the rates homeowners pay for garbage collection and water and sewer service, failed to become major controversies.

"These are things that years ago you just didn't do in an election year," Mr. Neall said. "They were fully explained, fully justified. We made our case and the legislative branch complied."

Council members agreed that they worked well with the administration for the first time in quite a while.

"The mood wasn't there to make waves," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, who is retiring from politics. She will leave the council in December after 12 years.

"There were a lot of issues I could have raised that I wasn't happy about," she said. "But it's an election year . . . and they want to get through it and get on with all they have to do."

Mr. Neall's final budget represents a 7 percent raise over last year. Much of that is taken up by 4 percent salary increases for all county employees, a first during Mr. Neall's tenure.

The budget also includes:

* Sixteen additional police officers to staff four new beats, one of which likely will be placed in north county to combat crime along the light rail line.

* Longevity pay increases worth $3.1 million for school employees.

Although auditor Joseph H. Novotny, concerned that school enrollment projections were too high, recommended cutting 17 of 31 proposed new teachers to save $510,000 Wednesday, he supported restoring those positions yesterday at the council's urging.

He also found money for five more teachers.

The three north county councilmen -- C. Edward Middlebrooks, George F. Bachman and Carl G. "Dutch" Holland -- made a last attempt to torpedo a proposal to build a jail in Glen Burnie.

Their effort to delete the project's planning money from the budget failed by a 4-3 vote, the same margin that approved the jail site two months ago.

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