Counties feel relief at state budget Lack of income tax cut taken as sign of more school aid

Caution tempers hopes

Impact of job cuts in health, human services feared

January 20, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Kris Antonelli, Mary Gail Hare, Dan Morse and Sherrie Ruhl contributed to this article.

Leaders of Baltimore-area counties, worried about losing millions in state aid to Gov. Parris N. Glendening's budget cuts, were relieved -- but cautious -- yesterday.

The $14.7 billion state budget that the governor proposed Wednesday did not appear to contain the crippling cuts that they had feared. And with no proposed income tax cut, they expect more state money for education and school construction, the biggest areas of state largess to the counties.

But details of the spending plan remained scarce. And word of vanishing social services jobs -- including the layoff of a Carroll County commissioner's wife -- were trickling down.

Such cuts could hurt the counties, which have been affected by the same flat revenues that hampered the state and which face their own tough budgetary decisions this year. Several counties already have begun retirement incentive programs or have made other moves to avoid layoffs or tax increases.

Yesterday, however, local officials spoke as though they had dodged a bullet.

"Certainly, the fact that there was no income tax cut means there will not be much of an effect on the county," said John Hammond, chief financial officer for Anne Arundel County.

"The headlines look good, but we are waiting for the details," Eileen M. Rehrmann, Harford County's executive, said. She was happy about the proposed demise of the snack tax, which affects a Frito-Lay plant in the county, though she wants it this year instead of in 1998.

In looking at that and other issues, the governor had to decide "whether to cut in all directions or clearly fund our priorities," spokeswoman Dianna D. Rosborough said. Education, she said, is "one of the governor's top priorities."

Mr. Glendening is proposing a 5 percent boost in education aid as part of a 4.4 percent increase in overall aid to localities.

Spending increases are balanced by the net loss of 1,285 state-funded jobs.

Marita B. Brown, Maryland secretary of budget and fiscal planning, said the state is cutting 402 jobs in health and 393 in human resources, partly at the discretion of those departments.

She could not provide a breakdown by locality, but said that the Highland Health Psychiatric Unit in Baltimore will close, as will Great Oaks, a residential treatment center for the severely handicapped in Montgomery County.

The jobs that Mr. Glendening plans to eliminate include some based in local social services and health departments.

In Baltimore County, for example, about $500,000 in funding for 23 social services workers' jobs will disappear July 1. They include workers who help the elderly to continue living in their homes, who teach parental skills to people in danger of abusing their children, and who determine welfare recipients' eligibility for state-funded day care.

Six Carroll County social workers who run a state-funded day care center are also due to lose their jobs. They include Margaret Brown, a 27-year veteran whose husband, W. Benjamin Brown, is one of three Carroll County commissioners.

"It makes no sense at all to cut a program which subsidizes the working poor," Mr. Brown said. "I always told Margaret not to worry about her job. Child care is important to keep people working and off welfare."

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker hoped that cuts in the local social services agency, which is funded almost entirely by the state, would come through attrition.

And he said he was not obligated to replace lost positions or services in the agency, adding, "It's the state's problem."

Meanwhile, at Howard's Health Department, which receives 40 percent of its funds from the state, Administrator Mary Sue Baker was concerned about losing state jobs at the same time the county executive wants to cut county spending by 12 percent in the next 2 1/2 years.

"We get hits from both sides," she said.

Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who is president of the Maryland Association of Counties, said the governor understood local leaders' fears of big state budget cuts that would force local tax increases.

Mr. Glendening's background as Prince George's County executive, and the persuasive arguments of local leaders over the last few months influenced the budget, Mr. Ruppersberger said.

"The governor listened and understood that the locals provide basic services. I applaud him for that," he added.

Still, officials are worried about cuts down the road.

Raymond S. Wacks, Howard County's budget administrator, "I think what we have to be concerned about is the other shoe dropping when the federal budget is finalized, if it's ever going to be finalized,"

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