County Council trims budget, cuts Hippodrome funds in half

May 18, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

The Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore will get half of the $500,000 promised by Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger if budget cuts agreed to by the County Council this week become final.

Ruppersberger said he will ask the council to restore the full amount, which was requested by a state lawmaker who supports the project.

"I'm extremely upset about it," said Ruppersberger. "We are going to go back and talk to the council. In the end, they've always done the right thing."

The council also backed away from a threat to give the public school system a fraction of the $19.1 million pledged for library books and computers, out of fear that the money would be diverted for other uses.

In all, the council agreed to trim $3.2 million from the county executive's proposed $1.79 billion spending plan for the 2000-2001 fiscal year. The budget keeps the property tax rate unchanged and includes no major new programs but contains salary increases of 5 percent to 6.4 percent for public school teachers.

After reviewing the executive's budget, council auditor Brian Rowe recommended $9 million in cuts. The council agreed to about a third of them.

The money will be redirected into public works projects in each of the seven council districts.

Many of the trims came from accounting changes, such as lowering worker's compensation contributions from the police and fire departments because the county's self-insurance fund doesn't need the money; and increasing the projections of employee turnover in many departments, which reduces payroll costs because of vacancies.

With a healthy economy and a budget surplus, council members were under no pressure to look for fat. Still, they said, they worked hard.

"It's never an easy year," said Council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder. "It was a pretty lean budget that was put there anyway, and there wasn't that much to cut."

In March, Ruppersberger pledged $1 million for the Hippodrome over two years, double the amount initially discussed. Del. Howard P. Rawlings, a Baltimore Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, had requested a larger contribution, saying county residents would be the biggest users of the renovated theater.

"I think this is a significant setback for regionalism," Rawlings said.

The commitment caught council members by surprise, and they promised at the time that they would scrutinize it.

The council discussed eliminating Hippodrome funding, Bartenfelder said, but agreed to $250,000 next year as a compromise. A final budget vote is set for May 25.

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