Even Anne Arundel Executive John G. Gary's law enforcement budget may not escape a County Council that has promised to suck the marrow from his "bare-bones" spending plan.
Although law and order was a key issue in the fall election, council members say there will be no sacred cows as they review Mr. Gary's proposed $733.2 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
More to the point, they appeared by week's end to have focused on plans to spend $100,000 to build a fire escape on the back of the Southern District police station and $700,000 to open a vocational school for 40 wayward teen-agers.
Both projects are relatively small parts of a separate, $87 million capital budget that would govern the construction of schools, parks and government buildings. But they are examples of how closely the council -- ruled by a Republican majority for the first time in 30 years -- is scrutinizing the plan offered by Mr. Gary, a fellow Republican.
Council members said they do not object to installing a fire escape at the 45-year-old police station in Edgewater. But they are balking at the cost, especially when the county plans to replace the station within five years at a cost of $4 million.
"I think that's investing $100,000 into something that we ought to be scraping off the face of the earth," said Councilman John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican. "I think that's a bad appropriation."
At the very least, council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican, said the county should devise a less expensive alternative.
"Right now, it appears we will be paying for this beyond the life of the building and it just doesn't appear to be cost-effective," Mrs. Evans said.
Council members also expressed doubts about plans to renovate a building in Crownsville to reopen the Career Center -- a promise Mr. Gary made during the campaign. Two years ago, then-County Executive Robert R. Neall closed the school -- which served teens who had dropped out or were expelled from the public schools -- as a cost-saving measure.
Chief among lawmakers' concerns is that the administration does not know how it will pay the school's day-to-day expenses. Human Services Officer Ardath M. Cade said she believes money is available from the state and federal governments. However, the county has no commitments.
"Why wasn't all this done before the budget came before us?" asked Councilman George F. Bachman Jr., a Linthicum Democrat who had opposed closing the Career Center. "They are putting the cart before the horse."
Mr. Bachman said he believes the executive has tried to do too much with his first budget, particularly when it contains the second smallest spending increase in 30 years. Mr. Gary has proposed increasing overall spending by 2.5 percent, nearly a full percentage point less than the rate of inflation.
"He's trying to live up to his commitments, but instead of giving us a full loaf, he's giving us a half-loaf," Mr. Bachman said.
For example, he said, Mr. Gary has proposed hiring 10 additional firefighters but only for the last six months of the year. Because they must go through several months of training, they won't be in the fire stations for a year.
Council members say they will try to plow whatever they cut from other parts of Mr. Gary's budget back into the public schools, which already account for 57 percent of county spending. The executive has proposed a 1.9 percent increase in the school budget.
Based on several public hearings last week, "there is a clear demand for smaller class sizes, increased technology, and more for special education," said Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican.
Mr. Gary has tried to respond to the criticism with a sense of humor. On Monday, he sent a memo to the council, offering "A Lesson in Teamwork from GEESE."
"If we have any goose sense," Mr. Gary wrote, "we, too, will stand by each other and take turns doing the hard tasks and sharing leadership!"
Some council members responded by heckling administration officials with goose calls for the rest of the week.
"I don't know how he meant it," Mrs. Evans said of the memo. "But I can assure you there will be cuts."