Arundel Budget Includes Layoffs, Furloughs, Tax Hike

… Leopold unveils $1.2 billion proposal …

By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

11:56 AM EDT, April 15, 2011

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold this morning unveiled his proposed budget for the next fiscal year at a time of slumping revenues and rising costs, calling for the first layoffs in nearly 20 years, 12 employee furlough days, a property tax increase and higher school spending to abide by state law.

The $1.2 billion operating budget would boost spending 1.5 percent while closing a nearly $80 million gap between expenses and revenue. The plan would cut 14 employee positions that are now filled and 35 that are vacant, but Leopold and Budget Officer John R. Hammond said on Thursday that every effort would be made to find new jobs for those 14 people in county government, where about 4,100 people work.

“It’s highly unlikely anyone will lose his or her job by the end of the fiscal year,” said Leopold, a Republican serving his second term, who was to present the budget to the seven-member County Council at the Arundel Center in Annapolis. He said “the depth of this recession has made this the most difficult and the most challenging” of the five budgets he has presented since taking office in 2006.

Like many other Maryland counties, Anne Arundel’s financial fortunes have followed the recession, as revenue from real estate transfer taxes, income taxes and state aid for road repairs and other activities has fallen.

Hammond said the 14 occupied positions are “spread out through county government” at different levels of the bureaucracy in six or seven departments. The last time the county laid off employees was in the milder recession of 1992, Hammond said, the same year voters approved an annual cap on property tax revenue increases.

If approved as proposed, 2012 would be the second straight year that the county has furloughed for 12 days all county and library employees, amounting to a 4.6 percent pay cut. Public safety, public school and community college employees are not included in the furlough. Police and firefighters will be given an equivalent pay cut, however.

The proposal, which now goes to the County Council, would maintain the “core functions” of the county’s 24 agencies, Leopold said, and a few programs would get more money. Those include school nurses, police officers for middle schools and Sarah’s House, a shelter and transitional housing program for homeless people.

Leopold also presented on Friday a $311 million capital budget, including money for an array of new construction and renovation projects for schools, police, fire, Anne Arundel Community College and the Jennifer Road Detention Center.

Leopold said the proposals hinge on the council agreeing to raise the property tax 3 cents to 91 cents per $100 of value. That translates to $30 more on annual bills per $100,000 of property value.

Leopold was quick to note that the county’s property tax rate with the increase would still be lower than it was when he took office. His office released figures showing that with average property assessments and a $65,000 income, the Anne Arundel tax bill is the lowest of seven counties in the Baltimore-Washington area.

The council can cut the proposal but not add to it, and now has until the end of May to adopt a budget. If they reject the tax increase entirely, council members would have to find about $20 million in cuts, Leopold said.

Much of the $17.9 million increase in the operating budget comes in rising costs over which the county has no control, Leopold said. That includes pensions, health insurance, administrative expenses for the Maryland Department of Assessments required by a new state law and Taxation and the so-called “maintenance of effort” school spending required by state law.

With about 700 more students in the school system, it will cost the county roughly $6 million more to sustain per-pupil spending at the 2011 level, as the law requires.

In late March, Leopold had applied to the state Department of Education for a waiver from “maintenance of effort,” but said he decided to withdraw the application. He said the county was able to meet that obligation by transferring money from debt service.

The plan cuts the county’s 24 department budgets as much as 12 percent, with the Department of Aging taking a 10 percent hit and Recreation and Parks falling 5 percent. Hammond said the cuts are mostly in employees.

“Government is 80 percent personnel,” said Hammond. “If you’re going to get any significant reductions you’ve got to limit the personnel costs.”

Copyright © 2011, The Baltimore Sun

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