Arundel fire chief receives warning on budget

Projections show agency is on track to overspend

December 28, 2003|By Ryan Davis | Ryan Davis,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County officials fear that the Fire Department, under scrutiny for its overspending last fiscal year, could exceed its budget again this year.

Though the most recent estimate of a $300,000 overrun is an improvement over the $1 million estimate issued earlier this month, it didn't eliminate all worries within county government.

"We're going in the right direction, but I still have some concern," said senior county budget and management analyst Wayne Greksa.

Earlier this month, in an e-mail to Fire Chief Roger C. Simonds, Greksa wrote, "I realize it's fairly early in the fiscal year, but my first cut at estimating expenditures indicates that the Fire Department is on track to overspend approved appropriations by as much as $1.0 million."

Since then, Greksa has received new information and had discussions with fire officials about their $66 million budget.

The Fire Department was the only county department to receive a warning e-mail from the budget office, county Budget Officer John R. Hammond said. "It's just giving a heads-up that we think there's a problem here," he said.

But fire officials said they are comfortable with their current budget situation and caution that it's very early in the fiscal year to make projections.

Overall, the county appears to be on track to stay within its nearly $900 million operating budget for the fiscal year that ends June 30, Hammond said. That can be attributed largely to higher-than-expected recording and transfer taxes - those collected from home sales refinancing, he said.

The next fiscal year - which begins July 1 - is not shaping up as well as this year for Anne Arundel. County Executive Janet S. Owens is projecting an $8 million shortfall for next fiscal year.

Partially because of that budget crunch, Owens formed a task force in August to study the rising overtime payments in the Fire Department. Last fiscal year, the department spent $7.2 million on overtime, nearly $1 million more than was budgeted and millions more than several neighboring jurisdictions.

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