Harford budget plan cuts taxes, increases spending

Proposal would hand out raises, hire deputies and schools workers

Metro

News from around the Baltimore region

April 01, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive James M. Harkins proposed a budget yesterday for the fiscal year beginning in July that includes a 2-cent cut in the property tax rate, a hefty pay raise for teachers and the hiring of 20 new sheriff's deputies.

"I think it is a good budget," Harkins said at the conclusion of an hour-and-a-half-long presentation on the budget, in which overall spending would rise nearly 28 percent. "It has something for everybody."

"For the first time in the county's history," he said, "the school board's budget is being fully funded."

Education funding is due to increase 13.9 percent, to $21.4 million. Harkins said this includes money for a 7 percent increase in the salaries of teachers and administrators this year and a promise of a similar increase next year.

"It's a good year for the school board," he said. Funding is available for 227 new school positions, including 162 teachers.

Schools Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas said the proposed budget would boost the quality of education by improving the ratio of students to teachers.

In recent years the school system has requested money for 80 new teachers and gotten none.

Harkins said the 2-cent cut in the property tax - the first property tax cut in 25 years - would reduce the taxes paid on a $250,000 home by $50 a year.

Because of an increase in property tax assessments in recent years, the county treasurer conceded that the average homeowner "will likely pay more taxes next year, but not to the full extent they would have" without the tax cut.

John J. O'Neill Jr., director of administration, said the county benefited from an excess of $19.7 million in revenue from income and property taxes for the current year and the projection that there would be a similar increase from these funding sources in the new fiscal year.

"This will allow us to do things we couldn't do in the past," he said.

Other provisions of the budget include:

A 3 percent cost-of-living pay raise for county workers.

Slightly more than $28 million for the start of construction of the Patterson Mill Middle and High School complex near Bel Air. Work is expected to begin this spring.

Nearly $16 million for the continued renovation of North Harford High School.

An increase in library funding of 12.5 percent, or $1.45 million. This includes money for the Abingdon library to open on Sundays.

An increase in funding for the county volunteer fire companies of 54.3 percent, or $2.15 million. This includes funds for some paid emergency medical service people. "This could be the first step in a paid service for the county," Harkins said.

Overall spending would rise to $671.9 million. The budget moves to the County Council today. The council can cut the budget but not add to it.

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