Former Harford County Executive Habern W. Freeman Jr. denied charges by new Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann that he "siphoned" off the county's $18 million budget surplus, attacking his successor's understanding of fiscal management.
At a rare appearance before the County Council, Mr. Freeman said last night that Mrs. Rehrmann's accusations are "deceitful, misleading and harmful to the economy of the county."
The former two-term county executive said Mrs. Rehrmann and her advisers are ill-informed about the county's budget. They erroneously thought that seven consecutive years of budget surpluses had accumulated into a separate surplus fund, instead of being committed to future projects, Mr. Freeman said.
"Surpluses do not accumulate," said Mr. Freeman, who was elected to the state Senate last month. "They are, by law, to be spent in the ensuing year."
Mr. Freeman said his administration had obeyed the County Charter by committing surpluses to future "pay-as-you-go" capital projects.
County Council President Jeffrey D. Wilson also disputed administration claims that Mr. Freeman had "siphoned" off the county surplus, saying that charge was "based on a totally erroneous view of the budget process."
The Rehrmann administration regards "the surplus as if it was some permanent bank account," he said.
"It never was that -- it never can be that," Mr. Wilson said. "It builds up during one fiscal year and is applied to the budget of the next fiscal year. It would have been improper for the county to forward such a large sum of money in an undesignated account."
Several county officials, who demanded anonymity, said the Rehrmann transition team has had difficulty understanding county fiscal matters, particularly the surplus.
They said Mrs. Rehrmann was disappointed that there was not an undesignated $18 million to spend on items of her choosing, such as education, in the operating budget for the next fiscal year. Several members of the county school board were among her strongest political supporters and during the campaign, Mrs. Rehrmann pledged to improve the quality of public schools.
"The cupboard was empty when I got here," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "The cupboard was full in July. He's [Mr. Freeman] made my job more difficult. The job would have been easier with $18 million."
Mrs. Rehrmann, citing break-even budget projections, last week announced a 30-day hiring and purchasing freeze at the county and is reviewing what capital projects to defer or fund.