Harford County has closed its fiscal year with a $22 million budget surplus, at least partially due to an improved economy that led to an increase in income tax revenue.
The surplus is $15 million more than county officials anticipated in September. A better economy means more people are working and paying taxes, resulting in Harford receiving $17.4 million more than projected from income tax revenue.
"It really is a large surplus," said Harford County Treasurer John Scotten.
Scotten said that when the budget was drafted for last fiscal year, which ended June 30, the county's income tax revenue was negative and not projected to grow significantly. The county received $137 million in income tax revenue for the year.
The county also did not have to draw on its $11.9 million appropriated fund, and expenditures were also $6.9 million lower than budgeted, he said.
In September, County Executive James M. Harkins said the then-projected $7 million surplus would be put toward the construction of the $52 million Patterson Mill middle and high school complex south of Bel Air.
The $22 million will be put into the 2005 budget, but it's too early to determine where it will be dedicated, Scotten said.
The 2005 budget includes 22 additional public safety positions; an additional $6.6 million for the county Board of Education; and an allocated 2 percent funding increase to each volunteer fire company.
Harford County Councilman Dion F. Guthrie, a Joppatowne/Edgewood Democrat, said he was both pleased and annoyed about the surplus.
"I'm certainly glad to see it," said Guthrie, the only Democrat on the seven-member council. "It doesn't totally surprise me, because homes have gone up substantially in value. The money can only be spent by authorization from the County Council."
However, he said he would have liked to known about it in September and is "annoyed that we didn't know about it sooner."
"Twenty-two million dollars just doesn't show up on your doorstep. I don't know how you cannot know there's $22 million coming," he said. "If we had anticipated this kind of money [last spring], there's some things we could have done. We were seeking additional pay raises for our teachers."
Scotten said that although the fiscal year ended in June, the county's calculations aren't complete until the end of October, and that any estimates before that are "totally preliminary."
Del. Barry Glassman, a Republican, said the upside is that the county is planning to fund the Bel Air school complex, but he said the county's teachers have fallen to 21st out of the state's 24 school systems in starting salaries.
"On the state level, we're dealing with such a deficit that when we see a surplus, in light of our school construction needs, it's hard to be angry at the county executive," he said. "And [the surplus] hit at the perfect time."