Budget process remains shut to outsiders


Anne Arundel department chiefs line up this week to make their budget requests for fiscal year 1992.

But their wish lists will remain secret because County Executive Robert R. Neall intends to follow the pattern of his predecessor O. James Lighthizer.

Preliminary agency budgets were released to the public until 1985, when Lighthizer declared that he wanted to eliminate and "inappropriate and unnecessary circus in the newspaper."

Following the example of most local governments, he shut off public debate on the budget until the executive delivers his budget message in May to the County Council.

Neall agrees with the need to "control" access to internal administration budget deliberations, his press secretary, Louise Hayman, said Friday.

"I think we want it to be done in a manageable way," she said.

Hayman dismissed the suggestion that Neall might be violating his campaign promise of last year to run a more open and responsive government than his predecessor.

The decision to conduct town meetings this month fulfills that pledge, she said. Neall has set meetings March 18 at the Glen Burnie Improvement Association and March 20 at the Arundel Center in Annapolis to hear concerns about services and spending.

But the town meeting will not be a dialogue with Neall because he does not share the budget requests he is receiving this week, Hayman said.

Two other Baltimore-area counties - Howard and Carroll - have citizen input built much earlier into their budget process.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker - like Neall, a Republican elected last year - has already released department budget requests and will have public hearings beginning tomorrow.

"As soon as he receives the budget from departments, he has a meeting with the citizens so they can have input before the county executive can really get into the details," said Hai Nguyen, a Howard County budget analyst.

Public input continues until April 19, when Ecker submits his budget to the council, which holds its own hearings.

In Carroll County, the degree of public input is somewhat limited because budget request to the Board of Commissioners are released simultaneously with recommendations of the budget office.

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