State Cuts Force New Budget Problems

$14.5 Million Gap Means Education Aid Will Take Hit

April 19, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

State budget cuts approved by the Maryland General Assembly will cost Howard County about $14.5 million in the fiscal year starting July 1, with $5.9 million of that coming directly from education aid, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said.

"We're still finalizing those numbers, but it will make our job a lot more difficult," he said. "We could have managed through our own reductions in revenue" if not for the extra cuts in state aid.

The executive said he believes those added cuts will probably mean furloughs for county workers, though no final decision has been reached.

Ulman said last week that the county will lay off fewer than a dozen employees in crafting an operating budget for fiscal 2010 that makes do with up to $50 million less in general fund revenue.

"We're going to weather this tough economic storm and come out of it," he said.

The operating budget is due to be revealed Monday, and the County Council has until June 1 to make any changes.

On Tuesday night, the council's annual public hearing on the capital budget drew a light crowd of 16 people to school board headquarters, including just six speakers - all urging approval of money for various parks.

Joel Goodman, a Glenelg dentist, had perhaps the most modest request of the 50-minute hearing - for $10,000 worth of site preparation, including a large concrete slab for his astronomy club to use in building a privately financed telescope to observe the skies over Alpha Ridge Park.

"We could open in less than a year," he told the council members.

The money for Alpha Ridge was not in Ulman's $392 million proposal, but Goodman said just a few thousand dollars would enable his group to complete their project in partnership with the county. The park is scheduled to get a lighted roller-hockey rink, more lighted parking and other amenities, which he said would not harm the observatory's operations.

Art Tollick, the last speaker, is working on a similar, though more expensive partnership. He urged approval of the $1.6 million budgeted to open the first facilities at Troy Hill Park in Elkridge, at Interstate 95 and Route 100. Once the county builds an entry road and parking there, it will ease the way for his Howard County Tennis Patrons group to build a $30 million championship tennis facility in the park with privately raised money.

"This is a very small down payment on a really great regional park," he said.

North Laurel residents Adam Rekus, 9, and his mother, Mary, came to support the North Laurel Community Center and park project next to his Laurel Woods Elementary school, and Bridget Mugane of Columbia spoke in favor of the first phase of construction of Blandair Park in east Columbia on land the county has owned for more than a decade.

After the hearing, the county's budget director, Raymond S. Wacks, pointed out that none of those projects in this year's capital budget is new, which might help explain the sparse attendance.

"These are long-term projects that are moving forward," he said. "People tend to come out when they're upset about something."

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