No firings, no furloughs, Baltimore Co. leader Smith says

County executive says budget shortfall means no new programs

March 15, 2010|By By Mary Gail Hare | The Baltimore Sun

Even as Baltimore County's current budget shortfall approaches $150 million, officials insist they will not resort to firings or furloughs. And, while the county will not fund any new programs or initiatives, residents will not experience any significant cut in services or increase in property tax rates, they say.

"We are not going to grow," said County Executive James T. Smith, a Democrat. "We don't have a deficit. We have had a shortfall and we have made adjustments."

But Smith and other county officials would not detail the budget adjustments being made to handle the problem.

Del. Patrick L. McDonough, a radio talk show host who represents the areas of Dundalk and Essex, called "shortfall" a misnomer. "This is a budget crisis and they are not managing the crisis," the Republican said, adding that even a detailed budget presentation to the entire delegation by the county's most experienced analyst was "short and evasive" with far too few details.

"They are either hiding something or they have a cavalier and irresponsible attitude," McDonough said. "The county has hit the budget wall and it's starting to crumble. Its resources are clearly down and the trend toward reducing state aid to counties will explode next year."

McDonough called Smith's promise of no firings or furloughs "an election year ploy."

"They are liars," McDonough said. "This is like discussing the Titanic and not mentioning icebergs."

How can Smith promise job security to employees this year and next, he asked. "Residents have a right to the truth. Revenues continue to drop. These lame ducks are moving on. How fair is this attitude to county employees?"

Smith, visibly annoyed by McDonough's comments, relayed to him by a reporter, said, "That's the big lie. He's just saying things he has no business to say. That's a political ploy that people use. I'm not into that. I'm not into political harangue. I'm into running good government."

Smith will deliver a balanced budget for the 2010-2011 fiscal year to the County Council on April 15 and will adjust the current year's budget, said county spokesman Donald Mohler. He characterized McDonough as grandstanding and clownish.

"If Del. McDonough needs this statement in crayon, we'll put it in crayon for him," Mohler said. "We will also gladly sit down with him and go over the budget line by line."

County officials, already facing a $144 million shortfall for fiscal 2010, learned last week that state contributions will be at least $16 million less than originally anticipated. County officials had already built some of the revenue shortage into the budget. Declining revenue - particularly a nearly 22 percent drop in income tax receipts - continues to play havoc with the $2.5 billion budget for 2010, which ends June 30.

Administrators are reviewing every department for cost-cutting, Mohler said. "Absolutely, this is a difficult budget to prepare. We are compelled to look carefully at every category and find efficiency wherever we can."

Those adjustments "are Band-Aids that will make up for current shortfalls, but not for the out years," said Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, an unannounced candidate for county executive. The county is delaying tough decisions, he said.

"We have to look for long-range solutions that bring spending within affordable limits and maintain basic services," Bartenfelder said. "We have to look ahead or we will go down the same road as the state."

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, also expected to seek Smith's job, said the county's rainy day and surplus funds will help address the shortfall. But, he added, "I will certainly seek cost-saving measures, before delving into those funds."

Council Chairman John Olszewski said cost-cutting will mean unfilled job vacancies and deferred capital projects.

"If the administration says no layoffs or furloughs, I believe them," said Olszewski, who plans to run for a fourth council term. "The county executive does not make statements that he can't back up."

Baltimore Sun reporter Nick Madigan contributed to this article.

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