Harford executive's plan would boost spending 7% to $406 million next year

Council slated to receive Harkins' budget Monday

March 28, 2002|By Lane Harvey Brown | Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins is expected to propose spending $406.3 million - an increase of about 7 percent over this year - when he presents his 2002-2003 operating budget to the County Council on Monday.

Nearly 70 percent of the operating budget would go to schools and public safety, which Harkins calls his top priorities.

He said the budget also reflects the priorities of Harford County residents, who want "a good safe community with good schools."

The budget contains no tax increases - or cuts, a possibility Harkins mentioned this year in his State of the County address.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about the proposed Harford County budget for 2002-2003 incorrectly said the schools would receive a 5.6 percent increase in county funds for operations and capital projects. The 5.6 percent increase refers to operations only. The schools would receive $157.6 million from the general fund and $27.2 million for capital projects. The overall schools budget, from all sources, would be $284.4 million. The Sun regrets the error.

He said the recession, cuts in state programs and news that the state would likely approve a new middle-high school to relieve crowding caused him to reconsider the tax cut.

"That high school is a costly project. Building it is only the first part," he said, noting that annual operating costs will likely run about $2 million.

The Board of Education would receive a 5.6 percent, or $7.7 million, increase for operations and capital projects. Libraries would receive $9.7 million, an 11 percent increase, including $1.9 million to build a library in Abingdon. The sheriff's office would get $35.6 million, a 7 percent increase.

Eligible county employees would receive a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment and move up one step on the county's pay scale. That translates into about a 6 percent raise for the average worker, said Lorraine T. Costello, chief of budget management and research.

Workers who have reached the top pay level would receive the 1 percent cost-of living adjustment, and a one-time $550 longevity payment in the fall.

The county has a surplus of $14 million from the 2000-2001 fiscal year, when officials froze hiring and spending in all departments because they feared an economic recession. The spending restrictions and tax revenues from capital gains - as many investors pulled out of the stock market last year - generated most of the surplus, he said. Harkins wants to spend that money on one-time capital expenditures.

Schools would receive $157.6 million in general fund money and $27.2 million for capital expenditures, a combined $7.7 million increase over this year.

The Board of Education also received full funding for its top budget priority - 16 additional secondary teachers.

Harkins proposes spending $5.25 million to deal with school crowding. The money would be used to add space at some of the county's most crowded schools, including North Harford High. It also would pay for studies on a proposed middle-high school for the Bel Air area.

Public safety would receive the second-largest allotment, most of which would go for sheriff's office wages, health benefits, four support staff positions and $349,801 for the sheriff's pension plan, which Harkins said contained no cost-of-living adjustments. A $378,250 allotment would buy 17 police vehicles.

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