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'92 budget plan has easy passage in Anne Arundel Steady tax rate, lack of layoffs mark fiscal effort


ANNAPOLIS -- The Anne Arundel County Council gave final approval yesterday to a fiscal 1992 budget that was notable for what it avoided.

Unlike some neighboring jurisdictions where sagging tax revenues have forced painful budget choices, Anne Arundel balanced a $616.6 million spending plan without employee layoffs, significant cutbacks in services or a major tax increase.

"I think this budget reflected the financial well-being we've worked hard for over the past eight years," said Council Chairwoman Virginia P. Clagett, D-7th. "It didn't happen by accident."

As originally proposed by County Executive Robert R. Neall, the county's property tax rate will remain at $2.46 per $100 of assessed value, the lowest in the Baltimore area. Still, rising property assessments mean that the owner of a home valued at $123,000, the countywide average, will pay $90 more in property taxes.

In addition, the county budget calls for more than $5 million in revenue from fee increases. The new fee schedule requires final approval from the council later this month.

The wide variety of fees tentatively scheduled to rise include building permits (from $15 to $30), pool admissions ($3 to $3.50), well water tests ($10 to $25) and several dozen others.

In a decision that could prove significant in future years, the council decided to hold up a $15.6 million payment for the construction of North County High School and $646,000 toward an addition to Broadneck Senior High School until the Board of Education drafts a countywide school redistricting plan.

Such a move is bound to be controversial if it leads to wholesale reshuffling of students between schools, but council members said it could save the county tens of millions of dollars in construction costs.

"To do a plan is easy; that's not a problem," said Paul Greksa, a school board member who attended the council meeting. "Actually doing the redistricting is another matter altogether."

The council backed off from some of the most controversial budget cuts proposed by County Auditor Joseph H. Novotny. It approved a reduction in the workweek for paid firefighters from 52 to 50 hours, but defeated Mr. Neall's plan to defer a pension increase for retired longtime volunteer firefighters and their widows.

Mr. Neall had proposed adding four-person teams that would report directly to him on issues dealing with the environment and management. The council preserved the environmental unit over Mr. Novotny's wishes and kept half the management analysis team.

The council also cut by half the county's annual grants toward Baltimore's arts and cultural institutions.

Administration officials said they were pleased with the budget deliberations and the results. The council reshuffled about $6 million, or about 1 percent of the total budget, but ended up keeping the same tax and overall spending levels proposed by Mr. Neall.

"We're well-positioned to deal with any potential future economic downturn," said Dennis H. Parkinson, Mr. Neall's budget officer. "If our revenues continue to go down, we can still responsibly respond."

Noticeably absent for much of the budget deliberations were representatives of the Anne Arundel Taxpayers Association, which led the revolt against high property taxes last year. Representatives of the taxpayers group say they trust Mr. Neall, a Republican and longtime fiscal conservative, to lower taxes when times get better.

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