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In face of larger school request, Harford expects only small revenue gains

Reacting quickly to a $33 million increase being sought in the local school budget, the Harford County administration has said it expects its primary sources of revenue to be either stagnant or show only small increases for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year.

County Executive David Craig issued a news release about next fiscal year's revenue projections on Dec. 17, the day after Interim School Superintendent Barbara Canavan introduced her preliminary $484.7 million operating budget to the Board of Education on the evening of Dec. 16.

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Canavan's proposed new budget, which is 7 percent higher than the current year's budget, envisions the county contributing $254.4 million, a $33 million increase, or about 15 percent more than the $221.3 the county is providing for the school operating budget this year.

Craig's news release states the county expects a slight overall revenue increase of $7.6 million for the 2015 fiscal year, which is less than a quarter of the additional money being sought by the school superintendent.

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Property tax revenues are expected to be flat or slightly lower than the current fiscal year, while income tax revenues are projected to show a marginal increase, the release states.

County Treasurer Kathryn Hewitt said the information was sent out in hopes of making people aware of the county's tight revenue picture, especially in light of a public hearing Craig hosted on Nov. 25 at Fallston High School, where several people criticized the county executive's parsimony regarding county funding for the past several school budgets.

"We have been thinking about it since the public hearing that [County Executive David] Craig had," Hewitt said. "We were thinking about it because we felt like, listening to the public hearing, that a lot of people in the public seem to have the perception that we have a lot more money."

Hewitt said that is not the case, explaining the public thinks "our revenues are growing faster than they really are, so we were trying to start [saying] to people, 'Hey, these are what some of the numbers are.'"

The $7.6 million projected increase "is not a huge amount," she said, noting also that "the expenditure side has not been formulated yet."

Hewitt said in the current county budget, the "modest" revenue increase was offset by increases in health care, pensions and other costs of doing business, as well as expenditures mandated by the state, according to the release.

"These expenses can be expected to increase similarly next year as, for example, the county's share of the costs of teachers' pensions is mandated to increase in the coming fiscal year by $500,000 to $7.5 million, a cost formerly covered by the state. In addition, county government's costs for employee health care are expected to increase by 10 [percent]," the news release said.

The total approved revenue from all funds and sources in the county's 2014 operating budget amounts to $640.3 million, according to budget documents. Counting capital expenditures, the total approved county budget for 2014 is $814 million.

The school system's request of $254.4 million in operating funds from the county for 2015 does not include its projected capital expenditures and debt service, totaling $107 million, a significant amount which would also come from the county.

Craig plans to hold meetings during January with individual departments and county-funded agencies about their budgets. He will consider requests by the individual groups as well as comments from residents and other organizations.

Craig's proposed budget must be sent to the Harford County Council by April 15, although he has said he hopes to send it by April 1. That will be followed by public hearings and hearings with departments and agencies.

The budget and tax rates for 2015 must be approved by June 15, 2014, under state law.

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