Gary plan for surplus spending in limbo Owens will review, possibly modify predecessor's moves

November 12, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

In an October spending spree, County Executive John G. Gary offered up more than half the county's $22 million surplus for schools and other projects around the county. When voters turned him out of office last week, they threw his plan into limbo.

Budget analysts for incoming County Executive Janet S. Owens are to meet today with Gary's money team to get their first look at the county's finances, and that could mean changes in the way the surplus is spent.

"I don't want to put fear and panic into anybody, but this was a proposal put forth by a county executive who lost his bid for re-election," said Gary spokeswoman Lisa I. Ritter.

Gary made a number of groups happy when he announced a week before the election that he would spend $5.8 million to hire teachers, renovate schools and buy computers.

He also had pledged to spend $1.5 million to prevent the Baldwin's Choice development in Shady Side, $1.1 million on scholarships and technology at Anne Arundel Community College, and more on other projects around the county.

The rest of the surplus, he said, would be set aside for unspecified construction projects.

It is up to Owens to decide what to do with the money.

Should she budget some for school renovations that Gary and the council set in motion without identifying a funding source? Or should funds go toward denting what school officials estimate is a $134 million backlog in building maintenance? Or should needs that Gary pinpointed -- including $1 million for library books and fire equipment -- be covered?

Owens "will review all [the options] and make a decision then," said William Chaney, co-chairman of her transition team.

Groups whose programs were to receive funding under Gary's plan have given Owens breathing room in the week since the election. But that is likely to end soon.

The issue for South Arundel Citizens for Responsible Development (SACReD) is whether the county will budget $1.5 million toward the purchase of 477 waterfront acres near Shady Side that had been slated to become the Baldwin's Choice housing development.

Gary promised last summer to join the state in buying the environmentally sensitive land. The state Board of Public Works approved the nearly $3 million state share Tuesday.

"At this point, we are very aware that we have to get with whoever is dealing with this on the transition team," said Amanda Spake of SACReD. But, she said, the organization "has no reason to believe that Owens won't support this."

After Gary refused in the spring to give the Board of Education the $9 million that members said they needed to avoid budget cuts, he offered $5.8 million last month in what Susie Jablinske, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, called a "last-minute attempt to buy votes."

Superintendent Carol S. Parham said she will wait to hear from the executive-elect. While she welcomed Gary's October offer, she has not made plans to spend it, knowing that the County Council had adjourned for the elections without voting to approve the new spending.

Even quick action would not deliver the money to the school system immediately, she said.

The teachers, whose efforts helped put Owens in office, say they aren't worried that Owens will turn her back on them after she campaigned on a pro-education platform.

"We will see what she recommends," Jablinske said. "We all know what her position is as far as public education is in this county."

Pub Date: 11/12/98

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.