Harford spending would rise just 1%


Despite minimal growth in revenue, Harford County plans to hold the line on taxes next year, put more police officers on the street and increase public school spending to a record $101 million.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's overall budget package $238.5 million for fiscal 1995-1996 represents a $1.58 million increase -- less than 1 percent -- over last year's budget.

But by trimming existing budgets and shifting about $3 million from the solid-waste fund into the general operating fund, the executive has fashioned a 3.5 percent increase for the Board of ** Education and a 10 percent increase for Public Safety, the only two departments that will spend more money in fiscal 1996.

While the operating budget proposal contains no salary increases for county employees, Mrs. Rehrmann said she is recommending a lump sum payment equal to 1 percent of an individual's annual salary, to be paid to every county employee in November. The one-time payments will total about $1.7 million, with the average payment per employee $323.

"This budget holds the line on tax rates and spending while, at the same time, maintaining basic services and meeting our priorities," Mrs. Rehrmann said yesterday in sending her proposed operating budget to the County Council.

The council has until May 31 to take action on the budget. The budget goes into effect July 1.

The county executive also released her proposed construction, or capital, budget of $43.7 million, $6.5 million less than last year's.

Most of those funds would go to construct a classroom building at Harford Community College, renovate the Bel Air library and build a new elementary school at Forest Lakes as well as renovate other public schools.

The general fund, which pays for most of the services of county government and constitutes the largest part of the operating budget, will increase about 3.5 percent, to $181.9 million, in fiscal 1996.

Public Safety's budget will grow by more than $2 million to $29 million. The increase includes $700,000 for the Sheriff's Office, most of it for new deputies.

Sheriff Joseph P. Meadows plans to hire five civilian records clerks, allowing five law enforcement officers now holding desk jobs to go back out on the street.

In addition, the county will beable to match a $154,000 federal grant from the "Cops Ahead" program to fund four additional deputies, purchase 20 new patrol cars and provide overtime pay for patrol and correctional officers.

"The bottom line is that nine more officers will be out on the streets," Mrs. Rehrmann said. "We're trying to be more efficient with the dollars available and let people with police training do the work they were trained to do."

The $3.5 million increase to the public schools will allow the Board of Education to hire 35 new classroom teachers and add about $1 million worth of materials and equipment, including computers, to the classroom. It also includes about $350,000 for transportation needs, including new buses.

Mrs. Rehrmann's proposal is still $2 million less than the Board of Education was expecting, Superintendent Ray R. Keech said yesterday. But, "given the current economic conditions and political realities, it is our intention to be a team player . . . and maximize our efforts," he said.

Revenue from property taxes and the personal income tax are projected to grow at rates of less than 3 percent, the lowest in 12 years, said county Treasurer James M. Jewell. With 90 percent of the revenue that supports the general fund coming from those sources, he said, "that leaves us at an almost flat rate of growth."

Even so, Mrs. Rehrmann said, the property tax rate will remain at $2.73 per $100 of assessed value.

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