Balto. Co. Council approves budget

No tax rate increase, layoffs in $1.87 billion plan

May 25, 2002|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

With little comment, the Baltimore County Council unanimously approved yesterday an austere $1.87 billion budget for 2002-2003 that maintains the current tax rate and avoids layoffs or cuts in services.

Under the package, which represents a 2.4 percent decline in spending compared with this year, the county property tax rate will remain at $1.115 per $100 of assessed value. For the average property owner, with a home assessed at $131,390, that translates into a bill of $1,465.

"We have done our part," said council Chairman John Olszewski Sr. "We have spent wisely and we leave the county in good financial health."

The only dissension at yesterday's meeting came when Councilman Wayne M. Skinner introduced two amendments, one seeking to eliminate all county funding for the $72 million expansion of the Baltimore County Detention Center, the other eliminating $30 million in state aid for the project.

Many of Skinner's constituents oppose expansion of the jail on Kenilworth Avenue. But the Towson Republican's efforts failed when he couldn't get a second to his motions.

County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger proposed a $1.88 billion budget in April that included $3.5 million for a revitalization project in Dundalk, $1.5 million for replacement of school computers and $1.5 million for the development of new technology for county departments.

Police and education, which have been top priorities of the Ruppersberger administration, saw increases of 1.7 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.

The council trimmed $3.3 million from Ruppersberger's proposed budget, with the biggest cut coming in education funding. School officials predicted a teacher turnover rate of 1.1 percent. But council members are betting the rate will be lower. They removed $950,000 from the budget in pay items related to the turnover.

The council also sliced $207,000 from the Police Department operating budget and $334,000 in workers' compensation funding.

The capital budget proposed by Ruppersberger, and approved by the council, lacked the large projects that have been the hallmark of the executive's previous seven years in office. Capital money dropped from $66 million this year to $1 million in the coming year.

The council, in its budget message, expressed concerns about several issues:

Health insurance costs have risen by 80 percent since 1999, accounting for $170 million in next year's budget. That amount is 29 percent higher than this year.

The Police Department is a year behind in reporting its crime statistics. The council said it is concerned about the timeliness of the reports.

The county is having difficulty recruiting and retaining deputy sheriffs. The office has eight vacancies out of 69 authorized positions, for a 12 percent vacancy rate. Most of the positions have been vacant for more than eight months.

Each public school negotiates its own vending contracts. It would be more economical, the council concluded, to negotiate an exclusive vending contract for all schools.

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