County unveils reduced wish list

Ruppersberger pares request for funds from state to $24.6 million

Schools, jail top budget

January 08, 2002|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, who prides himself on asking Annapolis only for what the county needs and getting what he asks for, unveiled a drastically pared-down legislative wish list yesterday, featuring modest funding requests for school renovations and the Towson jail expansion.

This year's request includes $18 million for school renovations, the same amount as last year; $5 million to expand the Towson jail; $850,000 for the Odyssey School, which serves children with language learning problems, to move to Green Spring Valley; and $750,000 to help relocate Irvine Nature Center.

The requests total $24.6 million, down from $40.2 million a year ago and $70.6 million the year before that.

Ruppersberger said the pared-down request is an acknowledgement that with the economic downturn, the state doesn't have the money it used to for capital projects, and even if it did, the county couldn't provide as much in matching funds as it once did.

Furthermore, Ruppersberger said, many of the projects funded in previous years are still in the works.

"This next county executive is going to be cutting ribbons for years to come," he said.

Sen. Michael J. Collins, an Essex Democrat who is chairman of the county's state Senate delegation, said he wished Ruppersberger were asking for more money, though he acknowledged that without knowing the county's precise financial situation, he doesn't know whether it could afford to match additional state funds.

"I'm disappointed they're not asking for more, just because there are so many unmet needs in the schools and so much that needs to be done," he said. "I'm not convinced that they're asking for enough, but I'm not the fiscal manager of the county."

The school funds would cap a half-billion-dollar series of renovation projects undertaken during Ruppersberger's administration. The executive said the funds will be enough to finish work on the 94 elementary schools deemed in need of repair and to begin on the middle schools.

Charles A. Herndon III, spokesman for the Baltimore County schools, said the school system will support Ruppersberger's proposal. "The county executive has proven himself to be very generous in terms of funding school construction and going to bat for the schools," he said.

The county will eventually need $36 million in state funds for expansion of the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson, but at the governor's behest, it is phasing in its request over the next three years, said Patrick H. Roddy, the county's chief lobbyist for the General Assembly. As a result, he said, the project will appear on the state's five-year capital plan for the first time.

Opponents of the expansion are targeting the state funding in a last-ditch effort to derail the project. Although the county has said it will put up all $72 million of the expansion cost if necessary, opponents hope that by cutting off state funds, they can at least delay the project for a year, until a new executive takes over.

Collins said the county's senatorial delegation will meet with opponents of the project this month.

Ruppersberger also proposed policy legislation, linked to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, that is designed to help county and state health officials respond to bioterrorism. The bill defines what constitutes a "catastrophic health event" and enumerates health officials' powers to restrict travel, require testing or vaccination, and gain access to medical equipment and facilities.

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