Howard County Council Democrats and Republican County Executive Charles I. Ecker have come to an uneasy, but workable compromise on a $270.3 million, 1992 spending package that preserves most county jobs while raising property taxes and foregoing teacher raises.
Under the spending blueprint, property taxes will rise by 14 cents to $2.59 per $100 of assessed value -- its highest watermark since 1978. The county school board will be unable to honor a contract salary increase for teachers for the first time in the county's history. Other government employees will go without raises as well and 40 persons will be laid off.
Despite much jockeying over budget policy with the executive, the county council left his spending proposal largely intact save eliminating a $1 million rainy day fund and restoring to education spending $109,000 from a recommended $1.5 million contingency fund. This provides for overflow teachers in schools with large classes, gifted and talented teachers and maintenance programs for two new schools. The council's handiwork represents small but important adjustments aimed at preserving Howard's top flight education system in tough economic times. It is unfortunate, though, that the council's powers are limited to restoring education spending. The county executive's conservative property tax hike represents a lost opportunity to mitigate layoffs and a 1.5 percent cut in school spending even as enrollment is expected to balloon by 1,400. Mr. Ecker's chief foil on the council, Chairman C. Vernon Gray, frets about layoffs in the human rights and consumer affairs offices and overburdened roads and equipment.
Worse, because of flagging income tax receipts, there's a chance that the county will be forced to borrow $3 million to balance its books at the close of the current fiscal year.
On balance Mr. Ecker and the county council have come up with a decent, though not remarkable, spending plan. Now that the fiscal gyrations have come to a close, we hope the leadership of the Howard County Education Association will, as it must, accept what it clearly cannot change. There is no longer any county executive or county council to sway with such protest actions as not participating in non-paid meetings and activities. At this point, such behavior becomes both tiresome and unproductive.