Anne Arundel County residents would see a slight decrease in their property tax rate, under a budget proposed Friday by County Executive John R. Leopold that includes no layoffs or furlough days for county employees.
The proposed fiscal 2010 operating budget totals $1.17 billion, 4 percent lower than the current budget and nearly 9 percent lower than what individual departments had requested. The Board of Education operating budget increased 1.3 percent, to $592 million. That increase was made, in part, because of a state-mandated program that requires the counties to contribute a certain percentage to education in order to get state funding.
The Fire Department would receive $4 million less under Leopold's proposal, while public works would receive $2.2 million less.
"The challenges facing every level of government have never been greater, but we are committed to working together to get through these tough times," Leopold said as he presented the budget to the County Council Friday in Annapolis.
The proposed 1.2-cent rate cut would trim the county property tax rate to 87.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, a reduction that was required by Anne Arundel's revenue cap.
Seven unions, representing 90 percent of county workers, agreed to forgo cost-of living pay increases, and some agreed to reduce merit pay increases next year, Leopold said. That effort should save the county $3 million, said County Budget Officer John Hammond. Department heads and other non-union employees will see no cost-of-living or merit raises. Leopold said he will forgo the $5,000 raise that county law allows him.
"This budget still reflects our ability to fund essential services," Leopold said. The police department saw no real decrease in funding, for example, and the proposed budget includes nearly $3 million in continued funding for school resource officers.
Nonessential services, however, took a hit. Leopold budgeted $1.7 million in grant money for fiscal 2010, mainly for domestic violence, food pantry and shelter services. When he entered office, he put up $5 million for grants. Libraries would lose $1.4 million from current spending levels, Recreation and Parks, $700,000.
Leopold dipped into the county's "rainy-day" fund for the first time, using nearly $17 million of the $46 million in the reserve fund. The county has seen three hiring freezes over the last three years, and Leopold froze nonessential spending in December. The county also renegotiated employees' health insurance contracts, which Leopold contends will save taxpayers $15 million over the next three years.
Even with next year's leaner budget, Hammond said, residents should not see a significant impact in public services.
In another effort to cut costs in fiscal 2010, the county will institute a new process for defining capital projects, to reduce the number of changes in the construction process. Leopold said he expects that program to save the county millions of dollars a year. Next year's capital budget is about $217 million, and several capital projects scheduled for 2010 have been put on hold for a year, Hammond said.
Leopold and Hammond said they anticipate even tougher challenges with the fiscal 2011 budget. Because of the bad housing market, county recordation and transfer taxes came in at $55 million this year, a significantly lower figure than in previous years, which have seen upward of $100 million.
"We're going to need some revenue growth for 2011," Hammond said.
One source of extra revenue is a new fee that will require insurance companies to pick up the tab for county residents who use ambulances. Residents without health insurance, however, would not have to pay the fee.
Starting Jan. 11, 2011, impact fees, which developers pay when they make improvements to property, will more than double, providing another revenue source.
The proposed budget, which the County Council has begun reviewing, must be completed by the end of June.