Anne Arundel council approves $699 million county operating budget Members shift $7 million into contingency fund

May 23, 1998|By Tanya Jones and Kris Antonelli | Tanya Jones and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Council unanimously adopted a $699,120,000 operating budget last night that added no money for the school system above the county executive's proposal.

In a late-night shuffle, the county administration found $520,000 in additional revenue for Anne Arundel Community College.

Council members shifted nearly $7.1 million in the executive's proposal from various county departments and a construction project to nearly double the size of a county government contingency fund.

About $5 million of the shifted money had been earmarked for the long-planned renovation of the former Brooklyn Park High School, which is to become a middle school and art and community center.

The other money was taken from the operating funds of various departments -- much of it reflecting math errors found by the county auditor and reductions she suggested to the council.

The council also transferred money from planned improvements at the community college to more than double the funds available for asbestos removal in schools.

There was little support on the council for funneling additional money directly to the school board budget, as the council spent much of the day considering 76 amendments to the county executive's spending plan.

In one early vote, two of the seven council members, Democrats Diane R. Evans of Arnold and James DeGrange of Glen Burnie, voted to shift $3.6 million from a county-controlled fund to the school board.

The majority voting against the proposal said they could not trust school officials to spend the money on classroom teachers, special education and other needs.

The school board and Superintendent Carol S. Parham said this week that they would not change their priorities, keeping teacher pay raises and health-care funding ahead of hiring new teachers, according to administration officials.

Council members met their midnight deadline to approve a property tax rate, setting it at the $2.36 per $100 of assessed value that was required as the maximum under the county's tax ceiling. It was also the rate called for by County Executive John G. Gary.

Earlier this month, Gary proposed a general operating budget of $698.6 million, including $300.7 million in county money for the school budget.

His capital budget called for $200.7 million in spending on construction projects, including $33.4 million from the operating side.

The big question taken up last night was how to allocate the more than $7 million shifted in Gary's proposal.

DeGrange and Evans, while supporting giving additional money directly to the school board, agreed to put it in the contingency fund as they joined in the vote to approve the budget.

County budget officials worked several hours last night to devise their plan, under which the contingency money can be doled out with council approval to the school board or any county department.

"If we don't send money over, they don't have it, and they can't spend it," Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican, argued last night for keeping the money out of the school board's hands and under county control in the contingency fund.

Holding the money will not delay the hiring of teachers, said Paul Rudolph, school board vice president. He said the school system has the money to hire teachers and could seek more money from the council later.

At two hearings this month, hundreds of people pleaded with the council for more money for classroom teachers, special education funding and more school psychologists. Teachers also complained that cost-of-living raises were not included in Gary's budget proposal.

"It is absolutely obnoxious that they can find the money but not use it to operate the schools," said John Kurpjuweit, president of the teachers union.

Unless the school board can find the money for raises, the board will have to renegotiate its contract with the teachers that calls for a 3 percent increase.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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