Insurance surplus eyed for schools

Council considers using employee health fund to pay for air conditioners

May 23, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County Council members could raid surplus money from an employee health insurance fund to cover the cost of installing air conditioners in 77 elementary schools as they wrap up hearings today on the county's 2003 budget.

The council will likely adopt the spending plan today, after it debates amendments to an $883 million operating budget proposed by County Executive Janet S. Owens. Council members said yesterday that the panel will probably agree to some of the cuts recommended by county auditor Teresa Sutherland's office.

The council's adoption of a budget could be delayed if the Owens administration proposes a supplemental budget, but a spokesman for the county executive said that move is unlikely.

The council is required to approve a budget by June 1. Last year, council members waited until May 31 to strike a budget.

"We have asked the county executive to put some additional things in the education budget," said council member Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., a Democrat from Millersville. Klosterman, like other council members, has met with county administrators including Chief Administrative Officer John M. Brusnighan in recent days to discuss a budget compromise.

Owens' budget proposal includes $404.8 million for education, an increase of $22 million over the current budget, and it sets aside money to hire 80 teachers to fill middle school and special education positions.

Owens also included about $800,000 in her budget to install air conditioning at a number of elementary schools. Council members, however, might decide to commit more money - about $2.8 million total - to ensure that all 77 elementary schools in the county have air conditioning. Council members are also considering adding another $500,000 to install an air-conditioning unit at the Severna Park High School gymnasium.

"How do you expect the kids to function when the heat builds up in the afternoon?" asked Klosterman, who said that the council could cut relatively small amounts of money from the Fire Department and other county departments and an employee health insurance fund to cover the cost for air conditioning.

Klosterman said the council intends to reallocate about $3 million in the budget. He said council members are debating whether they should fund $200,000 to begin planning for a new gymnasium at North County High School and $50,000 to renovate a community center in Severna Park.

Council members, like Owens, have focused much of their budget debate on education. All but one member of the council is running for re-election. Owens, a Democrat, is also raising money for a re-election campaign, although she has not officially announced her candidacy.

It was unclear yesterday exactly how much money the council might take from the health insurance fund. County Budget Officer John R. Hammond said this week that the fund, which represents contributions from county departments to cover employee health insurance costs, should not be raided.

"There is no overfunding," Hammond said.

Sutherland, the county auditor, recommended last week that elected officials cut as much as $6 million from the reserve. She requested a legal opinion from the county's office of law on her contention that money could be moved from the fund.

Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer's response, which backed the auditor, was distributed to council members. In it, Plymyer states that surplus funds "must be brought into the budget and appropriated in some manner."

Council member Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat, said yesterday that she will continue to push as the budget debate winds down today for funding for a new fire station for residents of the Annapolis Neck peninsula. Samorajczyk requested funding for the project last year but was unsuccessful.

Samorajczyk has criticized Owens for putting money in the 2003 budget to build a fire station for Severn but not for the Annapolis Neck.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.