Council members clash with Owens over funding plan

3 say budget omits money for projects in their districts

Majority backs executive

May 10, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Nerves are fraying on the Anne Arundel County Council as three of seven members chafe under a $1 billion budget proposal from County Executive Janet S. Owens that they say omits needed projects in their districts.

Word spread quickly yesterday on the council that Owens, a Democrat, had said in an informal news briefing earlier in the day that she does not plan to present a supplemental budget this month.

Because the council can add to the regular budget only for schools, a supplemental budget is the only way this year to revive other projects, such as a new library in Crofton or sound barriers on U.S. 50 near Annapolis.

The three council members complaining are Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat who has clashed often with Owens, and two Republicans, John J. Klocko III of Crofton and Cathleen M. Vitale of Severna Park.

The other four members -- all Democrats, including Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman, Jr. -- have praised the executive's budget, at least partly because Owens provided funding for projects they back in their districts.

Traditionally, the council has exerted pressure on the executive by threatening to cut funding for her priority projects. But such a cut needs four votes, and Owens appears to have lined up the support to foreclose that option.

Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle of Linthicum is not inclined to oppose Owens, though she does not approve of every item in the budget is perfect. Beidle's top priority is an expansion of North County High School, and Owens allotted the first installment of $3.8 million for that.

"I need North County High desperately and don't want to risk that," Beidle said in an interview.

Owens has said she crafted her budget based on how best to allocate limited dollars. She said she did not hold back money for projects to use as bargaining chips in a supplemental budget.

But some council members question her forthrightness.

Klocko -- frustrated that Owens pushed Crofton library funding to 2004 in favor of a library in Odenton -- was upset when Owens deleted funding for athletic fields in Davidsonville.

Vitale thought Owens would make money available for the B&A hiker-biker trail, only to discover that funding will be available in 2004, not next year.

And Samorajczyk, while grateful for the inclusion of $900,000 for a 9-acre expansion of Peninsula Park near Annapolis, said she was puzzled by the decision to omit funds for sound barriers on U.S. 50 between Ridgely Avenue and the Severn River Bridge.

Last year, Owens wrote to a neighborhood group pledging he support for the barriers. Yesterday, Owens said her objection was that the state covers 80 percent of the cost rather than the entire tab.

Owens wrote Klosterman a memo Friday criticizing Samorajczyk -- though not by name -- for crossing the "proper boundaries of behavior."

"In one recent meeting in your offices, a councilman yelled and screamed at another of my subordinates," Owens wrote. "In another meeting, the same councilman called one of my department heads `deceitful.'

"I do not find this conduct acceptable, and I will not tolerate it," she wrote, without providing details. Others close to the council confirmed Owens was referring to Samorajczyk.

In a sign of how deeply tensions are running, Klocko and Councilman Bill D. Burlison tangled yesterday during a budget hearing in the council chamber. Burlison, a Democrat from Odenton, defended Owens for pushing the Odenton library over one in Crofton and gave what other council members considered a self-serving speech on his contributions to Crofton.

When he was done, Klocko accused Burlison of not backing up his argument with facts, according to witnesses.

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