Council approves spending for 2003

School funds augmented

police, public works cut

$883 million operating budget

May 24, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County Council approved yesterday an $883 million operating budget for fiscal 2003 that will set aside $2 million to install air conditioners at elementary schools, along with minor cuts to police, fire and public works departments.

In contrast with years past, council members unanimously adopted the operating budget - up from $859 million last year - without bickering over pet projects or butting heads with County Executive Janet S. Owens, who in a letter this week thanked members for a "courteous" budget review.

Elected officials knew the 2003 budget would be tight but said it helped them to set funding goals. Owens and six of the seven council members are up for re-election this year and probably will play up education funding in campaign literature and stump speeches.

"When the dollars are lean, budgets traditionally go easier," said council member Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican from Severna Park who is running for re-election. "This budget helped us to focus on priorities. Every single person on that council ... wanted to do something where it matters: in the classroom."

The fiscal package adopted by the council totals $1.077 billion including a $194.5 million capital budget, slightly less than last year's. County officials used roughly $22 million left over from fiscal 2001 to balance the 2003 budget but did not touch an emergency reserve.

Anne Arundel's voter-approved tax limit forced a reduction in property taxes from 96 cents per $100 of assessed value to 95 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Budget Officer John R. Hammond - who promised council members a free lunch if they could strike a budget by noon - successfully blocked elected officials who said they might use surplus money in a health insurance fund to cover school expenses.

Hammond explained in a memo that the reserve was not overfunded as previously stated by Auditor Teresa Sutherland. "There are no funds available for appropriation elsewhere," said Hammond, adding that money in the fund would be needed to cover rising health care costs.

Council members instead trimmed money from various department budgets, including $50,000 from the Office of Detention Facilities for a duplicate staff position, $100,000 from the Police Department for uniforms, $50,000 from the Fire Department for uniforms, and $20,000 from the Department of Public Works for road marking materials.

Elected officials shifted about $3 million from Owens' budget to other projects, with most of the money - $2 million - going to the Board of Education to install window air conditioning units in 23 elementary schools.

School board member Paul G. Rudolph, who attended the budget session in Annapolis, said he was glad the council decided to fund the air conditioning project.

He said he was not upset by Chairman Bill D. Burlison's comment that the revised budget "rewarded" the school system with bonus funds on top of $4.9 million the board requested to cover costs in its 2002 budget.

"I also felt that the board could have done a better job with the budget," Rudolph said.

Burlison, a Democrat from Odenton who is an ardent Owens supporter, chastised the council for tweaking the executive's spending proposal. He said the budget, as amended, contained "too much pork and bacon." Still, he voted to adopt the spending plan.

"It's actually been a delightful budget session," said council member Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat who fought for money for roof and foundation repairs at Ferndale Elementary School. "I kept waiting for something to happen."

Beidle got $450,000 for Ferndale, which had been recommended for closure because the facility is in poor condition. This month, school staff again bailed out the flooded cafeteria after heavy rains. Principal Mary Grande interrupted classes yesterday with news of the funding and sent a letter home to parents. "We're ecstatic here," she said. "We can stop using the foot powder and throw away the boots."

Other budget winners include Severna High School, which will receive $500,000 to install air conditioning in its auditorium, and North County High School, which will receive $200,000 to begin planning a new athletic facility. Money to begin planning a public park at Franklin Point in Anne Arundel's south county also was budgeted.

At the Ram's Head Tavern in Annapolis yesterday afternoon, where council members collected on their free lunch, they and other county officials, including Owens, avoided talking business.

Said Vitale: "We go out to lunch every year, but this is the first year John [Hammond] has paid."

Sun staff writer Stephen Kiehl contributed to this article.

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