Harford budget to seek 2% pay raises Property-tax rate would not change

April 01, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

The Harford County executive will unveil a $261 million budget proposal this week that would give county employees and teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, while maintaining the current property-tax rate.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's proposal for the 1996-1997 fiscal year represents a $22.5 million increase -- 9.4 percent -- over the current year's tight budget in which only the Board of Education and public safety received increases.

Despite what county officials see as continued slow growth in revenue, Mrs. Rehrmann's new budget calls for increases, in varying degrees, for all departments.

Funds for those increases are the result of a rise in property-tax revenues and the use of about $14.5 million in surplus funds from previous years.

The proposal calls for hiring additional teachers, sheriff's deputies and a new health department sanitarian to inspect the many restaurants opening in the county. Money also is being set aside for more police cars, including four-wheel-drive vehicles, which the county considers necessary after this winter's harsh weather.

"Harford continues to be in good fiscal shape," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "The priorities are education, public safety and job creation."

But while the economic development office would receive a healthy 29 percent increase for two positions, Mrs. Rehrmann would eliminate the position of tourism director in favor of privatization. To that end, she earmarked a $60,000 grant for an already-formed independent tourism committee.

"The purpose is to get the private sector involved," she said.

Mrs. Rehrmann will send her spending package to the County Council tomorrow night. The council is expected to take action by May 28 on the budget, which goes into effect July 1.

The budget -- contingent on County Council approval -- would give the school system a $3.5 million increase, or 3.5 percent, over last year's budget, allowing for 18 new teachers. The increase falls short, however, of the $7.3 million the school board requested.

The 2 percent raise Mrs. Rehrmann included for teachers falls short of the 3 percent raise negotiated by the school board and the Harford County Education Association, the teachers union.

"We've heard the board intends to honor the agreement with the teachers," said HCEA President Jean Thomas, adding that while county teachers have received two 3 percent raises in the past six years, the cost of living has jumped 15.7 percent. To honor the agreement with teachers, the board would have to provide the additional money from other sources.

Donald R. Morrison, schools spokesman, said raises for teachers are a No. 1 priority. But the question, he said, is: "Does the [school] board follow through or abide by Mrs. Rehrmann's wishes?"

Mrs. Rehrmann is proposing legislation to the County Council for a $500,000 incentive program, separate from the operating funds, to reward schools that meet, exceed or show progress in statewide test standards.

The county executive is proposing a capital budget of $54.8 million -- $11.1 million more than last year's.

Most of those funds would go to school renovations, a new building at Harford Community College's Higher Education and Applied Technology (HEAT) Center in Aberdeen, a research library at the college, and library supplies, including computer equipment, for the college and county libraries.

Property taxes and personal income taxes account for almost 90 percent of the revenue that supports the general fund, which pays for most of the services of county government and constitutes the largest part of the operating budget.

Both taxes are projected to grow at slow rates again, although property taxes will be up about 2 percent over last year's 3 percent growth rate, said county Treasurer James M. Jewell. Income taxes will stay at a growth rate of about 3 percent.

"That leaves us with slow growth revenue," he said.

Even so, Mrs. Rehrmann said, the property tax rate will remain at $2.73 per $100 of assessed value.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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