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Gary to propose increase in fees


County Executive John G. Gary, who is contemplating a property tax increase this year, also is expected to ask Anne Arundel residents to pay more for trash removal and water and sewer services.

The fee charged to homeowners for trash collection would increase 25 percent, from $158 a year to $198, under the executive's spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Mr. Gary also wants to increase the rate charged for water and sewer services by about 13 percent. That means the average homeowner's utility bill would rise from $421 this year to $477 next year.

Those increases come after news that Mr. Gary is considering a 3-cent increase in the county's property tax rate. The tax increase would add $46 to the average homeowner's bill, raising from $1,348 to $1,394, and would roughly equal the annual 3.4 percent inflation rate.

The fee and tax proposals have surprised County Council members. Several said Friday the proposals appear to run counter to the message delivered last fall by Anne Arundel voters who, for the first time, elected a Republican executive and GOP-controlled council.

Mr. Gary and his staff have been meeting informally with the seven council members for several weeks, laying the groundwork for the formal presentation of his budget requests at 11 a.m. tomorrow. Still more work needs to be done before the council votes May 26.

"Right now, I'm not supporting any tax increases," said Councilman James E. DeGrange Sr., a Glen Burnie Democrat. The GOP "ran on a contract of not increasing taxes. I know we are in a tight budget, but . . . they really have a lot more selling to do."

Council members say they've been told the tax rate increase is needed because assessments have not kept pace with inflation. Residential trash fees must rise, in part, because commercial haulers are carting their trash elsewhere to avoid the county's $60-a-ton tipping fee, public works officials have said. And council members have been told the water and sewer increases are needed to maintain the systems.

Although Councilman Bert L. Rice, an Odenton Republican, and Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat, expressed skepticism about the tax proposals, they each noted that Mr. Gary's overall spending plans appear modest.

Those plans include a $733.2 million spending plan for day-to-day services, such as police patrols and zoning enforcement, and a separate $86.9 million capital budget to pay for the expansion of the Circuit Courthouse in Annapolis and other brick-and-mortar projects.

Overall, Mr. Gary would increase spending by 2.5 percent. It may be the smallest increase since charter government was approved 30 years ago, said Mr. Bachman, who first served on the council in 1965.

Apparently making good on some of his promises during the fall campaign, Mr. Gary has proposed spending about 7.5 percent more on law enforcement, rescue and fire services.

Much of that would go toward hiring 12 uniformed police officers, two detectives and six civilian employees. Each police officer added to the 600-member county force costs about $66,000 to train and equip.

The county Detention Center would receive 11 guards and other personnel to keep pace with the growing inmate population. And $9.3 million has been earmarked to build a jail in Glen Burnie.

An additional "victim's advocate" and other support staff are included for the state's attorney's office. Two sheriff's deputies would be hired for the county's new child support enforcement unit.

For the Fire Department, Mr. Gary has included 10 firefighters, a $215,000 tanker truck for the Annapolis Neck Peninsula and 31 emergency rescue defibrillators.

Also, making good on a campaign pledge, Mr. Gary has earmarked $700,000 to renovate a county building in Crownsville to reopen the Careers Center, a school for troubled youth closed several years ago by then-Executive Robert R. Neall.

"It seems like everything he promised during his campaign he's pretty much lived up to in this budget," Mr. Bachman said.

To continue construction on the Annapolis courthouse, Mr. Gary has included $9 million in his budget package.

And he would pump more than $1 million during the coming year into the renewal of downtown Glen Burnie. That includes money to offer incentives to developers, design a municipal ice skating rink, and convert portions of a government office building, Arundel Center North, on Baltimore-Annapolis Boulevard into a satellite campus of the Anne Arundel Community College.

Spending on the college's operation would increase by 6 percent, from $12.6 million to $13.4 million. Among other things, the college is slated to take over some adult education programs now offered through the county's public schools.

The college is due to receive $2.2 million for its new science building and $2.6 million for a fine arts center.

Mr. Gary has proposed a 2.1 percent increase in the county Board of Education's operating budget, from about $408.6 million to $417 million. That includes 61 new teachers.

The percentage increase is less than inflation, but school spending still accounts for 57 percent of Mr. Gary's overall operating budget.

School construction also dominates Mr. Gary's $87 million capital spending plan, accounting for roughly 29 percent. That includes money to build an addition at Broadneck High and a new middle school in the Meade area.

Road improvements, including work on East-West Boulevard in Severna Park and Forest Drive near Annapolis, make up about 15 percent of the capital budget.

An additional 8 percent is going to expansion of the county's parks, including $1.2 million for a proposed Stoney Creek park.

To open a 10,000-square-foot library in Maryland City, Mr. Gary would set aside $2 million. Anne Arundel's joint takeover of the Army's Tipton Airfield with Howard County is expected to cost about $110,000.

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