Neall proposes cut in property tax rate ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY


In his first budget since he was saddled with a cap on property tax revenue, Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall submitted a $668.6 million spending plan that drops the tax rate by 4 cents.

The budget -- which boosts spending on education and libraries, but holds the line on the rest of county government -- includes a property tax rate of $2.42 per $100 of assessed value. But some residents will pay more in taxes because of increased assessments.

The tax bill for the average county homeowner, with a house assessed at $146,000, would rise by $25 under the plan Mr. Neall delivered yesterday to the County Council.

Council Chairman David G. Boschert said he wants to try to lower the tax rate even more. He said the county possibly could use volunteers rather than hire 23 new firefighters to offset overtime costs.

"If justified, [lowering the tax rate] will be done," Mr. Boschert said.

Mr. Neall's budget increases spending by 4.9 percent over last year's figure of $637.2 million and exceeds by $25 million the recommendation of the county's Spending Affordability Committee.

Mr. Neall called it a plan that "responds to economic reality." He pointed out that the county may lose $9 million in revenue this year and more than $150 million over the next five years because of the tax cap.

The county also has permanently lost $30 million in state aid each year, including $14 million worth of Social Security payments for teachers, librarians and community college employees.

The biggest winners were education and libraries.

Mr. Neall included the entire $383.5 million the Board of Education requested, an increase of $34.7 million over the current budget. A third of that goes toward the new Social Security payments.

Another third is to pay for 144 new positions to fill gaps in elementary school staffing that were pointed out in the school system's "Bridging the Gap" study. The report, issued in November, documented a need for guidance counselors, assistant principals and secretaries in elementary schools.

Mr. Neall proposed increasing the Anne Arundel Community College budget by about 10 percent, to $33.4 million.

Most of that increase will pay for the Social Security taxes.

Libraries will get $8.5 million, nearly $1 million more than the current year, including $300,000 to staff a new library on Mountain Road in Pasadena.

Mr. Neall said he was able to balance his budget by reorganizing county government, consolidating six departments into three and eliminating a total of 312 positions for a savings of $10.1 million.

As a result, about 100 people in county government most likely will lose their jobs.

The budget contains no cost-of-living raises for county employees, and Mr. Neall said he wasn't optimistic that he would be able to provide them at mid-year.

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