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Budget a study in contrasts 81 layoffs, but 98 more teachers


The $637 million budget adopted late Friday night by the County Council is a study in contrasts.

It lays off 81 county workers but sets up a $10 million rainy day fund to offset expected cuts in state funding next fall.

It emphasizes education -- funding both the hiring of 98 %o additional school teachers and the construction of a $6 million classroom building at the community college because of anticipated enrollment increases.

But at the same time, the budget puts $430,000 into the Department of Utilities budget to hire 12 engineers, equipment operators and maintenance workers to clean up and maintain the county's worst environmental problem: the Millersville landfill.

The budget, a 6 percent, or $39 million, increase in spending over the current year, maintains the tax rate at $2.46 per $100, but homeowners will see their tax bills rise by an average of $100 because of higher assessments.

Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall also restored funding for programs he had slated to be cut when he delivered his proposed budget May 1. Some items that were restored to the budget approved by the council were:

* The Careers Center. Neall wanted to save $330,000 by cutting the program, but agreed to fund it for another year and bring in a consultant, Dr. Charles Wellford of the University of Maryland, to study its effectiveness and look for ways to improve on it.

* Battered spouses shelter. Neall agreed to reinstate a $45,890 cut to Battered Spouse Shelter program, after its advocates argued that the amount represented 16 percent of its budget and that the loss would cripple its operations.

* Service and arts groups. Neall agreed to earmark $1 million to arts and community service groups. The budget calls for giving $446,000 to community service groups like the county food bank and Hospice of the Chesapeake and $281,000 to arts groups. The Community Action Agency, a non-profit social services agency, will get $340,000.

The budget, worked out after six hours of public discussion and private negotiations between Neall and the council on Friday, will mean 81 county utility and clerical workers will lose their jobs.

Neall said the move represents a first step in his effort to shrink the size of the county's 4,000-member work force by 10 percent over the next three years.

"I'm tickled to death," Neall said after the council adopted his budget Friday night.

He said that the only item he lost in the give-and-take was funding for the Ridgeway Fire Station. Council members decided on a fire station for Forest Drive in Annapolis instead.

Council members also voted Friday night for a $1.8 million property tax credit program that will mean tax breaks for some of the county's neediest citizens, and to raise a wide range of fees and occupational licenses to pay for it.

Electricians, plumbers, pipefitters and hucksters would pay more do business, under a new fee formula adopted.

About 5,200 Anne Arundel homeowners now receive total credits of $3 million under the state tax relief program, but county budget officials estimate that a total of 13,500 homeowners would be eligible under Neall's plan, which designed as a local supplement to the state tax relief program.

The state program helps mostly people who make less than $20,000.

Neall's plan extend the aid to homeowners in the $20,000 to $30,000 range, said County Budget Officer Steve Welkos.

As part of the county proposal, a homeowner who makes $12,000 and saves $200 in state credits now would save $120 more.

The budget also provides funding for a 200-bed addition to the jail near Annapolis and construction of a 650-bed, $87 million jail, but the money is in the county's legislative account, which means the council must vote to approve the project before any of the money can be spent.

ZTC Neall also won approval for a $100,000 study of the county's jail needs and possible sites, which is due to be completed in October.

Neall did manage to save his $10 million "rainy day" fund, which he asked for in anticipation of future cuts in state aid.

The state reduced cut aid to the county last year by $20 million.

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