Council agrees on budget cuts

Balto. County officials eye $3 million in trims from $1.9 billion spending plan

Final vote set for May 29

May 22, 2001|By David Nitkin and Andrew A. Green | David Nitkin and Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council capped a hectic month of budget meetings yesterday by agreeing to trim about $3 million from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's spending plan for 2002, including more than $500,000 sought by the Police Department to reconfigure shifts and to create a criminal justice coordinating office.

Council members tentatively agreed to use most of the savings to increase a $10.5 million property tax cut proposed by Ruppersberger. The cut of about $13 million would mean a $48 savings on the tax bill of a property owner with a home assessed at $150,000.

Ruppersberger proposed a $1.9 billion budget the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan was criticized by the police union for his proposal to eliminate the practice of assigning one group of officers to the overnight shift at the Towson and North Point precincts. Instead, all officers and supervisors would rotate among three shifts.

Sheridan asked for $378,849 to hire 12 supervisors to implement the change. But the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4 complained that rotating shifts would be harmful to morale and officers' health.

Sheridan and the union have agreed to creation of a committee to study alternatives. Council members said money for any compromise solution could be taken from reserves.

Six of seven council members also agreed yesterday to eliminate $123,725 to pay for a new criminal justice coordinator and related staff.

Ruppersberger announced last month that corrections administrator Dorothy Williams would be moved from her post into the new office, where she would coordinate activities among criminal justice organizations. Williams had been criticized by some corrections officers for her management of the jail system.

Sheridan said he was unsure whether he could find money elsewhere to fund the new job.

Many county departments escaped major damage.

The council's audit staff had recommended trimming $12.5 million from the $900 million -- a figure that includes county, state and federal dollars -- sought by the public school system. Most of the proposed cut reflected $7.5 million in expected savings from an administrative reorganization proposed by schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston and approved by the school board. The council agreed to eliminate $443,000.

At a council hearing yesterday, Hairston said it would take months or years to implement the changes, and that any resulting savings should stay within the school system.

"The report was never intended to be implemented in its entirety," Hairston said. "Nor was it intended to eliminate any money."

Auditors recommended cutting $2 million from the $120 million community college budget. Council members agreed to $111,000.

Council members left untouched Ruppersberger's proposal to increase grants to cultural organizations in Baltimore County from $2.6 million this year to $3.8 million next year, an increase of 47 percent. But they said they would ask that neighboring suburban counties increase their contributions proportionately.

After sitting through dozens of hours of department budget hearings, council members blazed through a list of potential cuts yesterday.

The council will vote on a final budget May 29.

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