The battle over take-home patrol cars for Baltimore County police officers intensified yesterday when the county auditor responded sharply to a study by the Ruppersberger administration that some County Council members criticized as unfair and too harshly worded.
Auditor Brian T. Rowe took the administration to task on several fronts, saying its analysis was unfair because it was based on a hypothetical program that included more officers than initially proposed.
"It ... results in an apples-to-oranges comparison," Rowe said.
The administration issued a study Friday that concluded a take-home car program, which some council members have lobbied for, would be extremely expensive and impractical.
Elise Armacost, a spokeswoman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, said yesterday that Rowe's response is as flawed as his original analysis.
"Like the original report that we saw, this one is short on documentation and specifics," Armacost said. "They continue to advocate a position without really evaluating the issue."
Rowe issued a report two months ago that lauded the benefits of the program. The auditor estimated that the program, seen by supporters as a crime deterrent and an employee benefit, would cost $7.1 million to implement.
The administration's response, prepared by County Budget Director Fred Homan, estimated start-up costs at $19.2 million.
The response also appeared to lecture Rowe -- who works for the County Council -- by repeatedly saying the auditor "should have" done several things differently.
The tone of the administration's response caught the attention of some council members, who are concerned that Homan attempted to run roughshod over Rowe in an attempt to discredit the proposal.
"I thought the response was rather harsh in tone and I did not think it was very professional," said Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican and supporter of the car proposal. "I just thought it was almost as if an adult was scolding a child."
Rowe said he "was a bit surprised by the tone" of the administration's response.
Armacost addressed concerns about the administration's report by saying, "We had serious problems with the report, and we recognized flaws in it immediately."
In his statement yesterday, Rowe gave an almost line-by-line response to the administration's report, which has caused Ruppersberger to oppose the take-home program.
Rowe said the administration's start-up cost estimate was almost three times higher than his because it appeared to include officers in units other than patrol.
Armacost said the administration came up with its figures after counting every county patrol officer who would be eligible for a car. She denied that other units were added.
"I don't know if [Homan] is playing games, but I know the numbers he came up with are much greater" than Rowe's, said County Councilman John Olszewski Sr., a Dundalk Democrat. "I would just hope that Mr. Homan and Mr. Rowe could get together and come up with some real numbers."
The auditor also questioned why the administration played down the potential crime-deterrent effect of having more cruisers on the street.