Harford executive unveils his budget proposal

Plan doesn't fund request for a new school complex

April 02, 2004|By Ted Shelsby and Lane Harvey Brown | Ted Shelsby and Lane Harvey Brown,SUN STAFF

A budget for the next fiscal year asking for no new taxes while putting more police on the road and improving emergency services was proposed yesterday by Harford County Executive James M. Harkins.

It seeks pay raises for county workers - their first in more than a year - but has no money set aside for a proposed middle and high school complex near Bel Air that is being counted upon to ease crowding in a half-dozen schools.

In releasing details of his spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Harkins said it "reflects the needs of the county" - but also called it a budget in process, explaining that adjustments may be made depending upon the amount of money the county receives in state funding.

While no tax increase was sought, some fees would rise, said John J. O'Neill Jr., director of administration.

O'Neill said the tipping fee that trash haulers pay to dump garbage would rise by $3, to $45 a ton - costs that likely would be passed on to customers.

The 50-cent 911 emergency fee added to monthly telephone bills would increase by 25 cents to generate about $460,000 a year -money that would be used to hire six new emergency dispatchers and cover costs of a new police and fire radio system, officials said.

Harkins told reporters that $403,755 has been allocated to hire 10 new sheriff's deputies. The sheriff's office had requested 50.

The school board met last night in a grim session to review the budget figures. In a break with tradition, the board voted to ask the County Council for more money than the executive is budgeting for the schools.

Joseph Licata, assistant schools superintendent for operations, delivered the worst news: no funding for Patterson Mill Middle-High School, which the board was counting on to ease crowding.

Harkins included $7.6 million for North Harford High School's modernization and expansion - $2 million more than the board asked for - to help cover the rising cost of materials that pushed bids higher and put the project in peril.

Harkins' $3 million increase for the schools' operating budget is $11.9 million less than the board's request, dashing hopes for new teachers or funding of other priorities.

"I have real concerns about what's going to happen to services and programs for kids over time when you have such an austere budget," said Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas.

Less than 1 percent of the board's tentatively negotiated 3 percent cost of living adjustment with teacher and support unions would be covered in Harkins' budget, she said.

The county's 1,626 workers - not including the school system - would receive a 1 percent cost-of-living pay increase, and resumption of increases for time of service.

O'Neill said the county will be picking up the increase in the cost of health insurance for its workers.

The proposed operating budget is $411,295,985, an increase of $29.3 million, or 7.1 percent, over the current year.

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