Baltimore County's windfall Ruppersberger's budget: Fiscal '98 plan wisely tries to catch up on neglected projects.

April 16, 1997

BALTIMORE COUNTY Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 makes the most of the most money he has had to work with since taking office in 1994.

It is a shrewd spending plan that should satisfy just about everyone but taxophobes. Mr. Ruppersberger does not use better-than-expected revenues to cut taxes. He sees that the county -- full of aging schools, alleys and roads -- can't afford that. This budget gives something back to those who were forced to do with less during recent lean years -- libraries, parks, public works, teachers and county workers looking for raises. It also attempts to catch up on overdue brick-and-mortar projects.

For the first time, extra money allows Mr. Ruppersberger the luxury of a few niceties, such as streetscape maintenance workers. But this is not a frivolous budget. The executive sticks to his agenda with its emphasis on essentials: schools, public safety, preserving older neighborhoods, jobs. The schools would get $17 million more than this year, including money to hire 134 new teachers. Police would get enough money to hire dozens of new officers, including 40 specifically assigned to commercial strips.

The most important part of the budget, still to be reviewed by the council, is $37 million from unexpected revenues and surplus from this year to be pumped into long neglected capital projects -- schools, roads and alleys.

This is the largest one-time infusion of money in county history. Coupled with the county's recent success at securing state aid, it allows the executive to accelerate the entire capital program. An addition to crowded Deer Park Middle School can move ahead of schedule. So, too, the extensions of Route 43 and Honeygo Boulevard. With substantial funding for school construction, other state and local money can be plowed into maintenance. Using cash instead of borrowing money to catch up on all these projects also allows the county to plan for a desperately needed new jail that wasn't even in the capital program before.

Previous executives used one-time economic windfalls to fund ongoing expenses, such as employee raises. That practice led to disaster when the economy turned downward. The current proposal -- to use one-time money for one-time expenses -- is a wise strategy.

Pub Date: 4/16/97

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