$11 million surplus 'very good news' for Gary Schools, roads may benefit, county executive suggests

October 01, 1997|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County received about $11 million more in taxes than budget analysts predicted during the 1997 fiscal year -- perhaps meaning a windfall for the Board of Education and other county departments.

Much of the unanticipated revenue came from the county's share of state income taxes, which surged because private investors profited from the bullish stock market, County Financial Officer John Hammond said yesterday.

Some of the money also came from county departments that tightened their belts and spent less than they were budgeted to receive, Hammond said.

County Executive John G. Gary said yesterday that he has not decided how to spend the surplus from last year's $780 million operating budget.

But Gary hinted that some of the money might go to school PTC renovations, road repairs, new equipment for the Department of Public Works and other areas.

He also mentioned that some of the money could go to create a new service called the "Gateway Program," which would provide job training for 16-to- 18-year-old high-school dropouts and young people with minor criminal records.

Gary talked about creating the program when he ran for office in 1994 but wasn't able to get it started during his first three years because the county didn't have the money.

"This is very good news for us," said Gary. "It's nice to be in the plus instead of the minus. We'll have to go back and take a look at what we cut out of the budget and see what we can restore."

Carlesa R. Finney, president of the Board of Education, said she was overjoyed to hear that Gary might give some of the surplus cash to the school system.

Gary said he hopes to meet with School Superintendent Carol S. Parham next week to discuss possible uses of the money.

"My reaction is, 'Thank you John Gary,' " said Finney. "He's always said he's supportive of education. And the fact that when he has extra funds he thinks of us, I think that shows he really means it."

Among the most pressing needs of the school system are repairs and new books, Finney said.

School officials have long complained that the county's 117 schools need about $70 million in maintenance work.

Roofs are leaking. Carpets are threadbare.

Furnaces are so old they break down regularly.

Not everyone was thrilled to hear about the existence of the surplus money.

Dee Zepp, president of a union that represents about 1,200 secretarial and support workers at the Board of Education, said the county was claiming to be strapped for cash this spring during budget negotiations.

In the name of saving about $300,000, the county transferred 158 school health workers from the Board of Education to the Health Department -- in the process cutting their pay and benefits.

Zepp said the county should have known about the $11 million before it made these cuts.

"I can't believe they just found this," Zepp said. "If our accountants and financial officers can't do a better job of predicting how much money we're bringing in, they don't deserve the large salaries that they receive."

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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