Budgeting in the dark Arundel's surplus: County executive-elect Owens must decide how to spend extra funds.

November 16, 1998

WINNING the election against great odds must now seem like the easy part for Anne Arundel County executive-elect Janet S. Owens. Not only does she have to assemble a government apparatus, Ms. Owens must contend with important policy decisions before she has had a chance to fully weigh her options.

Deciding how to spend the county's surplus falls into this category. Current County Executive John G. Gary had made plans to spend about half of the projected surplus of $22 million. In a transparent attempt to mend relations with the schools, Mr. Gary pledged $5.8 million more for education (weeks after he said the system had misspent tens of millions of dollars). Mr. Gary also committed $1.5 million to buy Baldwin's Choice in Shady Side as an environmental preserve, and $1.1 million for Anne Arundel Community College.

Given Ms. Owens' campaign, heavily supported as it was by teachers, education spending is not likely to be reduced. She may want the money spent differently than Mr. Gary wanted, but the school board can set its own priorities. Superintendent Carol S. Parham wisely decided not to spend additional money until it's clear she is getting it.

Although Mr. Gary earmarked the surplus for expenditures that Ms. Owens would be disposed to support, she may have her own goals. She may think that restoration of gifted-and-talented education in middle school is more important than attacking the backlog of school repairs. In addition, groups in and out of government are jockeying to curry favor for pet programs and projects.

Like any newly elected county executive, Ms. Owens must decide without having an in-depth understanding of all the issues and their consequences. Ms. Owens can take comfort that she will have much more information when she has to make future budget decisions.

Pub Date: 11/16/98

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