The Howard County government must dig deep into its financial cupboard to pay for the winter's heavy snow removal costs, but the bigger bill may be still to come.
"Not a lot of economic activity took place in February," which could hurt local income tax revenue - not to mention state sales taxes - for the first quarter of this year, said Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director.
"I'm getting concerned," Wacks said, "that the indirect costs of being homebound while people were digging themselves out last month could hurt as much as the direct snow removal costs."
To pay the latter, the Robey administration wants to transfer $837,748 from other purposes to cover the remainder of a $2.1 million bill for snow removal.
The worries about winter revenue come two weeks before County Executive James N. Robey is to announce his proposed operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He has strongly hinted that major tax increases could be part of that request because of the struggling economy and state budget cuts.
Wacks said the bill transferring snow removal money is slated for County Council introduction April 7. It represents the first time since 1982 that the county has transferred funds for this purpose.
The winter was a complete reversal from last year, when no significant snow fell. The county had budgeted $547,500 for snow removal this fiscal year, but added $750,000 from contingency funds last month.
The county is seeking $1.1 million in federal funding to help cover costs from the state of emergency declared during the record storm Presidents Day weekend.
Wacks and Robey are using money projected as year-end surpluses to fill the gap, including $230,000 from Debt Service, $250,000 from the Department of Corrections and $357,748 from police. Unanticipated job turnover among county police and lower-than-expected costs for inmate medical care are the source of most of the savings.
In addition, Robey is asking the council to approve moving $110,000 from the Police Department to the state's attorney's budget to cover unexpected expenses and lower-than-expected turnover there, Wacks said in an announcement.