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Auditor urges elimination of undersheriff's job


In a move that could torpedo an agreement between the Anne Arundel County Executive and the Sheriff's Office, the county auditor recommended yesterday that the position of undersheriff be eliminated from the proposed operating budget for next fiscal year.

The auditor also recommended that the County Council cut some nonteaching positions from the school system and delay several major building projects, including the new courthouse.

The County Council is considering a proposed $668.6 million operating budget and a $106 million capital budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The auditor's recommendations are not binding and must be approved by the council. Administration officials will have a chance to rebut the recommendations at today's council meeting.

In addition to eliminating the position of undersheriff, the auditor's office advised making other cuts in the operating budget of the Sheriff's Office totaling $236,000. The cuts could kill a January agreement that ended a feud between Sheriff Robert G. Pepersack Sr. and County Executive Robert R. Neall over spending by the sheriff. Under the agreement, the county funded the undersheriff position and a 5 percent budget increase.

"I believe that the undersheriff position should not be funded," Teresa Sutherland of the auditor's office told the council. "The duties of this position, in my opinion, are the duties the sheriff was elected to perform."

J. Patrick Ogle was the undersheriff until the position was eliminated by Mr. Neall in last year's budget and Mr. Ogle was assigned to the position of chief deputy at less pay.

In the past two years, Sheriff Pepersack has clashed with the council and Mr. Neall for overspending his budget. Under the agreement, Mr. Neall agreed to raise the sheriff's budget and fund Mr. Ogle's position in exchange for more control over the sheriff's budget.

"The sheriff has an agreement with the county executive and the County Council, and he intends to live by that agreement," Mr. Ogle said last night. "These cuts are not in the spirit of that agreement."

The auditor's office also recommended cutting $4 million from the Board of Education budget, including funding for four assistant principals and 12 guidance counselors are intended for understaffed elementary schools.

Earlier, County Auditor Joseph H. Novotny told the council that a $43 million proposal to renovate the historic Circuit Courthouse building on Church Circle in Annapolis and build additional courtrooms is too expensive and should be shelved.

Mr. Neall later defended the courthouse plan. "I happen to believe that a courthouse is a signature building of a community," he said. He also wants to build a facility large enough to fill the county's needs for decades.

Mr. Novotny also recommended funding the Board of Education's top 12 building priorities, which differ from the $36 million worth of projects selected by Mr. Neall's budget office. That meant cutting out funding for Solley Area, Ridgeway, Parole, Deale and South Shore elementary schools. But the auditor advised adding Andover Middle School in North County to next year's projects, which had been pushed by council members George Bachman, D-Linthicum, and Edward Middlebrooks, D-Severn.

Council members voted yesterday afternoon to override the auditor's recommendations for Deale and Parole elementaries but took no other action on the auditor's proposals.

The council must approve the budget by the end of this week.

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