Schools, police top county's budget

Council approves $1.79 billion plan

tax rates unchanged

May 26, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Saying they shared Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's emphasis on the basics of education, police and fire protection, economic development and neighborhood renewal, the County Council approved last night a $1.79 billion budget for fiscal year 2000-2001.

The budget includes $597.8 million for public schools, an increase of $56 million from the previous fiscal year. The schools budget will fund 5 percent pay raises for teachers, new library books and computers, 91 additional specialty teachers and school resource officers in every county high school.

"This is an unprecedented increase in the funding of the [education] department, and exceeds the state's maintenance-of-effort requirement by $36.5 million," said council Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat.

The budget keeps property tax rates unchanged at $2.855 per $100 of assessed valuation, but increases general fund spending by 4.4 percent. The extra money comes from rising property values, which generate more tax revenue from the same tax rate, and increases in personal income tax revenue from higher wages.

Under the county charter, the council can only subtract from the budget proposal Ruppersberger submitted in early April. The council trimmed $3.3 million from several agencies, but generally left the executive's spending priorities intact.

In its annual budget message, the council identified several trouble spots.

Council members said they were disturbed by testimony from Community College of Baltimore County officials that they cannot calculate how many students are enrolled at the system's three campuses.

"Rather than reduce the budget to reflect declining enrollment, the council has elected to ask the chancellor to come back to us next year with a realistic budget proposal based upon accurate information," Bartenfelder said in the budget message.

Concerned that in the past some public schools diverted money for unintended uses, the council asked for quarterly reports detailing how $19.6 million for library books and computers was being spent.

The council also asked to be informed before new or increased commitments are made for arts and sciences grants. The council drew the ire this year of state Del. Howard P. Rawlings, the Baltimore City Democrat who heads the House Appropriations Committee, by reducing funding for the city's Hippodrome Theater renovations from $500,000 to $250,000. Rawlings asked for the higher amount in March, and Ruppersberger agreed without notifying the council.

A $200.4 million capital budget also approved last night contains $105 million for school construction and renovation; $15 million for parks; $30.8 million for neighborhood renewal projects and $2.5 million to buy open space in urbanized areas.

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