County Council identifies budget cuts $8.6 million would go toward school repairs instead of tax cuts

May 16, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council identified yesterday $8.6 million in cuts to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's proposed $1.6 billion budget for next year -- the largest cut this decade -- but the money will go for school repairs, not a tax reduction.

The cuts -- more than double the $3.7 million trimmed from Ruppersberger's proposal last year -- come mainly from snow removal, emergency expenses and salary savings from job turnover in the fiscal year that starts July 1. Council members said their action will not affect jobs or services.

"We're putting it back into schools," said Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat. "Schools drive everything."

Council Chairman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat, said the time is not right for a tax cut.

In trimming the budget, council members went along with Ruppersberger's plea to use unusually high revenues from the robust economy to rebuild neglected infrastructure in older county neighborhoods, especially schools.

By pumping a record $85 million in cash from extra revenues into one-time capital projects, the executive argues, the county can make up for decades of neglect without causing long-term financial damage.

Cutting income tax rates or the property tax, $2.855 for each $100 of assessed value, would mean revenue losses every year, budget director Fred Homan said.

The county also expects to get a big bill for school repairs this summer, when a yearlong, $1 million consultant's survey of all 160 schools is completed. Estimates put the eventual bill at $200 million or more.

"There are a lot of schools that won't be done," Ruppersberger spokesman Michael H. Davis said after the vote. "Now we can add schools."

In deciding what to cut from the executive's proposal, council members focused on the unusually high $4 million that Ruppersberger had placed in the storm emergency fund and the $2.5 million contingency fund, double the usual amount. The council cut $3 million from those funds.

At a budget hearing last week, Public Works Director Charles R. "Bob" Olsen told the council he was not concerned about possible cuts but noted that "it's a guessing game."

Olsen said the snow-clogged winter of 1995-1996 cost the county $5.3 million, while this winter's cost was less than $500,000.

The school budget was virtually unscathed this year.

The only cut in the $756 million proposal was a reduction of $645,000 in health insurance and sick leave benefits.

Also, Councilman Louis L. DePazzo, a Dundalk Democrat, persuaded his colleagues not to cut the Department of Recreation and Parks budget.

"They've done a yeoman's job," said DePazzo. "This is an opportunity to give them a little fluff."

Before formally voting on the new budget Friday, the council will decide next week which schools will get the added attention.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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