County Council Members Poised to Adopt “bare bones budget”

Kamenetz plan includes department reorganizations

By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun

8:46 PM EDT, May 17, 2012

Baltimore County Council members are poised to adopt a lean spending plan that would achieve savings largely through early retirements and reorganizations in a number of government departments.

The council made only one cut Thursday to the $1.65 billion operating budget County Executive Kevin Kamenetz recommended in April. Members trimmed the Department of Public Works’ fuel budget for dump trucks and other equipment by about $208,000 because the county auditor found that the administration had overestimated the cost of fuel.

Kamenetz’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes no furloughs, layoffs or tax increases. The council is scheduled to adopt it May 24.

Under the county charter, council members can only cut from the executive’s recommendation — they cannot suggest added spending. The council felt it would be unwise to make large cuts beyond what Kamenetz planned, Chairwoman Vicki Almond said.

“The administration sent us a very bare-bones budget,” the Reisterstown Democrat said. “We really didn’t want to do anything that would impede services to the public.”

The county offered an early retirement incentive late last year. More than 300 workers were approved for the program, which required them to leave their posts by the end of February. According to the county auditor, the savings on their salaries total about $19.5 million.

In his budget proposal last month, Kamenetz said the county would have 7 percent fewer employees than last year.

The effect of the reduced workforce is yet to be seen, Almond said.

“It’s a very interesting time,” she said. “I think it’s going to be wait-and-see with the reorganizations. The administration feels very confident that everything will go on, business as usual, and we trust that they will.”

In budget hearings this month, department heads said they were using technology and trying to be more efficient to make up for having fewer workers.

“I thought the agencies made a compelling case that they were saving as much as possible,” said Councilman David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican. “I think it’s a difficult time for many county employees, but it’s certainly better than being furloughed or laid off. We’re asking more from our county employees, and all of us on the council appreciate the extra work they’re doing.”

The budget represents a 2.8 percent increase over last year’s, in part because it absorbs $15.7 million in teacher pension costs from the state and $20 million in added employee benefit costs, Kamenetz said last month. If not for those additions, the budget would have decreased by about $1 million from fiscal year 2012, he said.

Kamenetz’s chief of staff, Don Mohler, said the county executive had simple goals for his budget: to focus on education, basic services and infrastructure while avoiding furloughs, layoffs and tax increases.

“By working harder and doing more with less, we’ve also been able to avoid any furloughs and any firings,” he said. “Are [county employees] working harder than ever? You bet. But we’re confident that we’ll be able to continue to deliver the high-quality services that the people of Baltimore County deserve.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2012, The Baltimore Sun

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