Pocketing the scissors

Baltimore County: Budget increase would aid education, neighborhood revitalization.

April 20, 1999

TO DEMONSTRATE his resolve to trim spending in Baltimore County, council President Kevin B. Kamenetz brandished a pair of scissors after County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger presented his $1.69 billion operating budget. Without hesitation, Mr. Ruppersberger strode over to Mr. Kamenetz, asked for the scissors and pocketed them. That little drama may portend future action -- or little of it -- on the county budget.

After struggling through recession and population decline earlier this decade, Baltimore County is in excellent fiscal health. Mr. Ruppersberger's plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1 takes advantage of the county's flush coffers, proposing 7 percent more spending. The emphasis remains to improve schools, rejuvenate old neighborhoods, reduce juvenile crime, stimulate business, but don't add long-term commitments.

For education, the executive proposes $62 million more, for a total of $566 million, to hire 50 teachers, buy new elementary math books, complete middle and high school computer networks, replace musical instruments and give a 2 percent raise to school employees. His operating budget also includes $82 million for school repair.

Also vital to the county's future is Mr. Ruppersberger's continued emphasis on the east side. He wants $7.5 million to begin acquisition and demolition of a substandard, 800-unit rental complex called the Village of Tall Trees. Mismanaged by some of its multiple landlords, the development generates 4,000 police calls a year. Mr. Ruppersberger proposes a park in its place.

Mr. Ruppersberger's budget attends to items often neglected when times are bad -- repairs, repaving and renovation. The council shouldn't risk the ability to catch up on long-term needs for the sake of short-term politics and a tax cut of pennies.

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