Revenue shortfall seen

Funds lacking for capital projects, budget official warns

April 09, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

A year after the County Council rebuffed a proposed 2-cent property tax cut, a county budget official said this week that Harford's projected revenue stream will not be enough to cover its growing needs as the idea of future tax increases was floated.

During a budget workshop in council chambers Thursday, County Treasurer John R. Scotten told the council that an increase in funds did not necessarily have to come through tax increases, but that "changes need to take place" in order to fund county capital projects.

"My gut is, our revenue picture as it stands today doesn't cover that need," Scotten said.

His comments came in response to a question by Council President Robert S. Wagner, who expressed concern about the county's ability to take on vital construction projects amid lackluster support from the state government.

"With state funding pulling back and those down there [in Annapolis] who don't think we need any money, those together don't bode well for Harford County," said Wagner, a Republican. "I'm skeptical on the way [income tax] plays out over the next three years."

Criticism of the performance of the Harford delegation to the General Assembly this session has been mounting in recent weeks after the county received about $2 million of the $8 million it had requested for the Patterson Mill middle and high school complex.

The county "forward funded" the project in the hope of later recouping part of the cost from the state, a method that County Executive David R. Craig said must be employed to finance other school construction projects.

Lorraine Costello, the administration director, told the council that the current proposed budget represents the first time that Harford County has assessed its long-range needs.

But Councilwoman Veronica L. "Roni" Chenowith, a Republican, said a plan to fund those needs was just as important.

Last year, the previous county executive, James M. Harkins, proposed a 2-cent property tax cut in the budget for the current fiscal year, the first such decrease in years. The council later reduced the decrease to 1 cent.

Craig had said this year that a similar tax cut was unlikely in the budget plan for the coming year.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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