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Budget feud could delay school projects


Elementary school students in Pasadena and Severn may have to wait one more year for relief from crowded classrooms as a result of a power struggle between the County Council and County Executive John G. Gary.

Last week, the council approved money to begin planning additions to Jacobsville and Ridgeway elementaries this summer, a year earlier than proposed by Mr. Gary.

Yesterday, Mr. Gary's aides challenged whether the council's transfer of $1.2 million from the county bureaucracy to the public schools was legal.

In a memo to the council, county Financial Officer John R. Hammond said the appropriation could be made only if the executive placed it on the table, which he did not.

That is one reason the Gary administration says it believes the $950 million spending plan approved by the council Friday is not balanced, which the law requires it to be. The council has cut the $1.2 million from the bureaucracy, and without a new appropriation, the budget is out of balance, Mr. Hammond said, because expenditures do not match revenues.

Mr. Hammond, who had hoped to meet with the council yesterday, said the administration has found similar discrepancies in the trash disposal

and utility budgets for the fiscal year that will begin July 1.

The council has reacted defiantly, refusing to meet with Mr. Gary's aides or to reconsider the budget.

"The council feels . . . that [the budget] is in order, that county and state laws have been followed," said Council President Diane R. Evans, a Republican from Arnold. "We feel it is in balance and there are no irregularities.

"We do not need the assistance of the county executive to transfer money . . . to the Board of Education," she said, citing a state law that specifically allows the council to give more money to the public schools than the executive has proposed.

B. Atwood Tate, the council's legal adviser, said, "It's not that the council didn't do its job. . . . This is a matter of accounting gymnastics on the part of the administration."

Administration officials continued to lobby council members last night in hopes of resolving the problem today, said Gary spokesman Larry Telford. Lawmakers do not have to set the final budget until midnight tonight under the County Charter, he said.

Even if no agreement is reached, "I don't see any constitutional emergency here," said former County Executive Robert R. Neall.

The legal requirement that the council approve a balanced budget is primarily a check against spending more than the county receives in taxes, Mr. Neall said. In this case, the county will be receiving more taxes than the council has authorized the executive to spend.

"The whole issue will turn on whether it was legally appropriated," Mr. Neall. "If [the council] had the authority to appropriate it, then it's in the Board of Education's hands. Anything less than that and it's loose change that nobody can touch."

That is bad news for the students at Ridgeway and Jacobsville and students at other schools whose leaky roofs were to have been replaced, said Greg Nourse, director of finance for county Board of Education.

The delay could cost the county $4.5 million in state aid to build the two additions. The combined cost for the two projects is estimated at $17.4 million.

The state Board of Public Works made the county eligible for aid this winter, but the county must do the planning over the summer, said Rodell Phaire, director of planning and construction for the public schools.

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