Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold introduced to the County Council on Monday morning his proposed $1.18 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year, calling for up to 12 furlough days for most of the county's workforce in an attempt to make up for plummeting revenues.
Trying to close a $95 million shortfall without layoffs, Leopold's proposal calls for the closure of county offices for five days. Most county employees would take an additional seven days of unpaid leave, Leopold said, amounting to a 4.5 percent pay decrease. All county department heads would get a 5 percent salary reduction. Additionally, 49 vacant positions would be eliminated.
"It's not an inconvenience-free budget," said Leopold, a Republican. "Clearly, the tough decisions have been made."
Citing a $25 million revenue loss and $11.6 million in sustained cuts from the state, the proposal lowers spending by 2.5 percent overall, affecting several departments: public works, planning and zoning, recreation and parks, central services and the county's library system. Funding to the board of education would increase by 2 percent, amounting to about $8.3 million.
The property tax rate would remain 88 cents per $100 of assessed value. The property tax was the only revenue stream that netted a surplus, bringing $5.1 million to the county.
Leopold's budget for fiscal year 2011 makes use of $48.8 million in funding from a variety of "one-time funds" including $9.1 million from the county's fund balance and $5.5 million from bond premiums. John R. Hammond, the county's budget officer, said he floated the budget plans to bond agencies, which said the county would retain its triple A status under Leopold's plan.
County Councilman Jamie Benoit, a Democrat from Crownsville, said the use of those funds "will be up for debate."
But Leopold said the use of the funds "is appropriate in this sluggish economy."
Councilman Ronald Dillon, vice-chair of the council, called Leopold's budget "uneventful" and "pretty reasonable," adding that the impact on county employees is "significant."
"I think I'm fine with using [the one-time funds] because the alternative is not too fun: raising taxes and cutting more services," said Dillon, a Republican.
Joanna Conti, a businesswoman and Democratic candidate for county executive, criticized Leopold's plan.
"This budget is like putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound," Conti said.
Leopold's $331 million capital budget includes $10 million for the expansion of elementary schools to accommodate all-day kindergarten and another $8 million to eliminate open space classrooms.
The plan also recommends funding to complete renovations, expansions and replacements at Belle Grove Elementary, Folger McKinsey Elementary, Germantown Elementary, Overlook Elementary, Pershing Hill Elementary and Northeast High.
Leopold also included funding for the design and construction of a new Severna Park High School and $250,000 in renovations for Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter School.
Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Republican from Severna Park, said she was concerned with the use of one-time funds and said she would examine the budget closely to determine "where he's getting the money from."
Vitale, a longtime champion of renovating Severna Park High, said she was thrilled Leopold appeared to be making the school a priority.
"It's nice to be going out, after 11 years, with the promise going forward," said Vitale, who is in her last term on the council.
Schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell said Leopold gave the school system "exactly what he had to give us," under the maintenance of effort law, which requires schools to be funded at the same level as the previous year, and "not a penny more."
Maxwell said he objected to Leopold's school construction schedule, which omitted funding from several construction projects in line for funding for the next six years, deviating from a state study that school officials have used to establish the order of construction projects.
Maxwell said eliminating funding for many of these projects flies in the face of smart planning during an economic downturn when construction costs can drop by as much as 30 percent. He also said without funds from the county for many of these projects, the county schools won't be eligible for state funding, putting Anne Arundel at a "competitive disadvantage."
Maxwell also decried the lack of funding for school textbrooks, citing the school system's rising enrollment.
"We're doing the best we can given the county's limited resources," Hammond said. "We have funded the board of education according to the laws of Maryland. The school board needs to figure out what their priorities are."
Maxwell said he hopes to work with the County Council, which he said "has been very reasonable and supportive of our efforts."
Council Chairman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Republican, said schools would likely be the "biggest area to make adjustments."
The County Council has final authority over the county budget and plans to hold several public hearings over the next few weeks. Fiscal year 2011 begins July 1.