State, federal aid sought to fight terrorism

Heightened security, overtime are costly, local officials say

October 25, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Claiming that their resources have been stretched thin by their efforts to fight the home-front war against terrorism, county executives from four of the state's most-populous counties called yesterday for state or federal aid - fast.

"The federal government has declared that we will fight this war on two fronts," said Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who held a meeting yesterday of "The Big 7," a coalition of six metropolitan counties and Baltimore that meets to discuss regional issues.

"There is a war over there and a war here," he said, referring to local anthrax scares, stepped up security at major institutions and general anxiety in local communities.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Maryland section, an article about county leaders asking for state and federal financial help to fight the homeland war on terrorism misidentified the position of a state official. Warren G. Deshenaux is director of the Department of Legislative Services, Office of Policy Analysis. The Sun regrets the error.

County leaders from across the state will meet with Gov. Parris N. Glendening next week to present evidence of the economic strain the war against terrorism is having on local governments.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley is expected to discuss the city's financial needs in testimony this afternoon before a U.S. Senate appropriations subcommittee chaired by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland.

Curry, flanked by leaders from Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Montgomery counties, said that unless local jurisdictions receive a cash infusion from state or federal coffers soon, municipal budgets could be short money to cover education, public safety and health care needs.

Since the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, local police and fire departments have kicked into high gear, putting extra officers on patrol and answering hundreds of calls from concerned residents about suspicious packages. Also, many counties have activated emergency operations centers, which at times require around-the-clock maintenance and extra staff.

Tallying the costs

Many counties have yet to tally overtime costs they have incurred since the terrorist attacks.

Howard County Budget Director Raymond Wacks said last week that the police and fire departments have consumed as much as three-quarters of the county's overtime budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30.

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens expects to get a first look at overtime expenditures today. In Baltimore, anti-terrorism efforts have cost the city an estimated $2.6 million, much of that in police personnel costs from heightened security. The city projects that such spending overall might exceed $9 million in this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"If we are being deputized and we are the first line of defense, we are owed the same degree of sensitivity provided to military personnel abroad," said Curry, referring to the military's recently increased budget.

Said Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, "We have to be the first response ... but we also have to do business as usual. If we don't, we are falling into the trap of where the terrorists want us to be."

Deficits predicted

The financial demands occur at a bad time.

Many county officials were worried about the effects a faltering economy might have on their operating budgets. Most county executives are beginning to get a peek at first-quarter revenue figures, and the numbers aren't good.

In general, budget officers are warning local leaders to anticipate decreases in income tax revenue resulting from layoffs and a drop in hotel tax receipts.

Also, state officials are making gloomy predictions about what the next fiscal year could bring in terms of revenue.

At the meeting with county executives yesterday, Warren G. Deschenaux, director of the state Department of Legislative Services, said that an early review of state revenue sources showed state income to be about $50 million short what it was a year ago.

A recent report by Deschenaux's office to the House Appropriations Committee predicted a half-billion-dollar deficit in Medicaid and other health care programs.

"What we know is that there could be some real difficulties right around the corner," he said.

Deschenaux told the executives that the state's general fund could face a $56 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Early estimates indicate a potential for a $944 million deficit in next year's state budget, Deschenaux said.

Glendening, who is in the twilight of his gubernatorial career, must by law present a balanced budget to the General Assembly in January and cost cutting is inevitable, he said.

But Glendening could decide to transfer money from the state's "rainy day" fund to help balance this year's budget, said Deschenaux, as well as provide counties with relief.

The county executives who met yesterday said they will work with their budget officers to develop hard figures before the meeting Nov. 1 with Glendening.

"We need to come up with something that [outlines] what the state can do to help," said Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan. "The state should step in."

When asked if she thought county officials might get the cold shoulder from Glendening given the sobering fiscal report by Deschenaux, Owens said the state must respond. "There is no choice," she said.

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