First hearing on budget set

April 30, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Harford County residents concerned about how their tax dollars are spent will get their first chance this year to speak out.

The first of two public hearings on County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's proposed $238.5 million operating budget for fiscal 1996 is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at North Harford High School in Pylesville.

Mrs. Rehrmann's budget, which represents less than a 1 percent overall increase in spending over fiscal 1995, reduces the budgets of most departments. Only the Board of Education and the Sheriff's Office received significantly more money.

The budget holds the line on property and income taxes and offers a one-time lump-sum bonus to county employees in lieu of a pay raise.

The County Council, which must vote on the proposed legislation by May 31, is prohibited from taking any action on the budget until two public hearings are held. A second hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. May 11 at Aberdeen High School.

The budget goes into effect July 1.

The general fund, which pays for most of the services of county government and constitutes the largest part of the operating budget, will increase to $181.9 million if Mrs. Rehrmann's plan is approved.

About 56 percent, or a record $101 million, has been allocated to the Board of Education. The $3.5 million increase for public schools will allow the board to hire 35 new classroom teachers and add about $1 million worth of materials and equipment, including computers, to the classroom. The budget also includes about $350,000 for transportation needs, including new buses.

Still, Mrs. Rehrmann's proposal is considerably less than the Board of Education had requested and will result in larger classes, said Superintendent Ray R. Keech.

RTC School officials defended their budget requests at a recent work session with the County Council. At that time, Dr. Keech told council members the schools need 80 new teachers to keep pace with enrollment, which is expected to increase by 1,200 next year.

He asked the council for $1.4 million more than Mrs. Rehrmann had provided and suggested shifting $761,000 designated for instructional equipment into hiring more teachers and substitutes, particularly for pre-kindergarten and gifted-and-talented classrooms.

By law, the council can reduce any department's budget. Education is the only one it can increase.

The Sheriff's Office budget will grow by $700,000, or about 4 percent, under Mrs. Rehrmann's plan. Most of the new money will be used to hire new deputies and put more officers on the street.

County Treasurer James Jewell has said revenues from property taxes and personal income taxes are projected to grow less than three percent next year, the lowest rate in 12 years. Still, the budget proposes no increase in the property tax rate, which stands at $2.73 per $100 of assessed value.

Mrs. Rehrmann's proposed construction, or capital, budget of $43.7 million also is under review by the council. Most of the money would go to construct a classroom building at Harford Community College, renovate the Bel Air library, build a new elementary school at Forest Lakes and renovate several public schools.

Residents will have three minutes each to speak at Thursday's hearing. Anyone representing an organized group may speak for five minutes.

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