County leaders restore trims

Schools, nonprofits to benefit in budget shift of $8.1 million

May 23, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

The County Council and County Executive John R. Leopold redirected yesterday $8.1 million in next year's budget to restore unpopular cuts to the school system and nonprofit agencies.

Council members were unable to say where they had pulled the money from, other than that it came from a pool of possible cuts hashed out by the county auditor and Leopold's budget staff.

Council members confirmed that $2 million to repair the Quiet Waters ice rink would remain in the budget.

Council Chairman Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican, confirmed that $2.2 million was reallocated to the education budget for teachers' salaries. He said the school board would determine how that money would be spent, such as for new year-round schooling at Annapolis High, all-day kindergarten or the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Anne Arundel County section of Wedneday's Sun misstated how much grant funding Arundel Child Care Connections is expected to receive in the county's fiscal 2008 budget. The County Council approved an amendment this week to award the nonprofit organization, which initially had been slated for no such funding, a $55,000 grant. The Sun regrets the error.

The sides also set aside $332,000 for studies to renovate or replace West Meade and Pershing Hill elementary schools. They also created a $2.5 million fund - under County Council control - from which education officials could petition for similar studies for other schools, such as Northeast High, Belle Grove Elementary, Annapolis Elementary or the Phoenix Center for emotionally impaired students.

Under the negotiated deal, 15 nonprofit organizations recouped $815,000. Leopold had cut $3.17 million from 49 groups after they had received a total of $5 million the previous year.

Priority went to nonprofits that rely on county money to secure matching grants from the state or federal government. The grant funding for Arundel Child Care Connections jumped from $50,000 to $250,000; for Annapolis Area Ministries, the amount rose from $10,000 to $210,000; for Opportunity Builders Inc., the share increased from $5,000 to $110,000.

"A reduction in the grants program by more than 50 percent should provide an impetus for nonprofit organizations to reduce their reliance on taxpayer funding and increase their efforts to seek additional funding from private and foundation sources," said Leopold, a Republican, in a statement, referring to uncertain fiscal times ahead.

Dillon said in a statement that the council "heard loud and clear" from the public in regard to the grant cuts at two budget hearings and took the "communications to heart."

The $8.1 million amounts to about one-fifth of 1 percent of the $1.44 billion operating and capital budget for fiscal 2008.

The council approved 54 amendments by 5 p.m., four hours after the council had scheduled a 1 p.m. meeting on budget changes. But county officials said that complications with restoring grant funding for the nonprofits - an action that required Leopold to submit a supplement budget - stalled the process.

Council members were restrained in moving around more funding, saying they couldn't find fat in the budget. Last year the council transferred the equivalent of 1 percent of the $1.37 billion budget proposed by then-County Executive Janet S. Owens.

"This year we are micromanaging John Leopold's budget," said Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, before voting on the amendments.

The council must pass a budget by May 31, for the fiscal year starting July 1.

"We have limited resources," County Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican, said before the vote. "All things considered, it's a good budget."

The agreement came a day after the county auditor and budget director concurred on proposals to cut $2.8 million from the operating budget and $4 million from the capital budget.

The deductions that County Auditor Teresa Sutherland recommended Monday to the council were much larger: $4.5 million in cuts to the operating budget and nearly $23.7 million on the capital side. Many of the reductions on the operating side pertained to funding for pensions, retiree health care, staff turnover, gas, postage and business travel.

The tentative adjustments raise the capital budget for the school system to just over $136 million.

"The council was quite sympathetic to the school, capital budget issues," said Alex Szachnowicz, the acting director of facilities for Anne Arundel County public schools. "The council's intentions are pretty clear."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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