Arundel budget settled past midnight deadline

$730 million package retains executive items, gives schools priority

May 29, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

After marathon negotiations that extended well past their midnight deadline, Anne Arundel County's political leaders settled on a $730 million budget package in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Weary and worn, members of the County Council tried to look beyond the agonizing, 16-hour day of bartering. They declared the finished product a success not just for schools -- which will get a record $335.7 million in county support -- but also for neighborhoods that have long asked for public investment in libraries, parks and other community programs.

"To say the least, this was a frustrating process," said Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. "But I think everyone feels good with the end result. Nobody got left out."

Several items that County Executive Janet S. Owens had omitted from her spending plan were revived in a series of deals brokered over crab balls, ham sandwiches and desserts made by council staffers. But the festive atmosphere waned as the hours dragged on past midnight -- usually the deadline for the budget to be settled.

At the end, county auditor Teresa Sutherland huddled over spreadsheets with Owens' budget team for two hours until they could agree that the budget numbers were sound.

At 2 a.m., with council members yawning and stumbling over their words, the final deal was struck. No one made a victory speech.

But there were small victories for all of them.

Key projects added to the budget included $1.4 million to expand Severn Danza Park; $1 million for the Londontown Historic Site; $1 million toward a new technology center at Anne Arundel Community College; $8 million for a Crofton library; and $200,000 to build the Broadneck Peninsula trail.

To carve out money for these projects, council members chipped away at each department's operating budget. They then slashed three-quarters of the Advanced Land Acquisition fund, an account that has raised concerns because of projects the prior county executive used it for.

Owens also declared the budget a success. She preserved the majority of her spending proposals, and nearly every item she had deemed crucial survived unscathed. Chief among those was a road extension planned near the Parole business district that would connect bustling Riva Road with Route 2.

Though every council member left yesterday morning with something in the budget for their constituents, none was cheering. The council's attorney, Atwood B. Tate, said that in 17 years, he had never seen a budget struck after midnight.

At a 2: 15 a.m. news conference, Owens referred to the long delays as "historic."

She chalked up the delays to the inexperience of almost everyone involved -- she and six council members were working on their first budget.

"Hopefully, next year's budget will be smoother," she said.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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