Anne Arundel's first-ever Republican-majority County Council surprised the cynics who expected it to rubber-stamp everything GOP Executive John G. Gary asked for in his first spending plan. Council members did what they are supposed to: make the executive's budget better.
They took the questionable items out of Mr. Gary's generally responsible, austere budget and put the money to work more sensibly. Though the amount of money shifted was minuscule, their changes produced a budget that more closely reflects taxpayers' priorities.
Council members took to heart the message voters sent last fall: that they want tax dollars spent less on bureaucracy and more on basic services. They unanimously nixed Mr. Gary's wish for new bureaucrats and pay raises for some of his top aides. They lopped travel and meal accounts and office supplies from his budget. They killed Mr. Gary's plan to resurrect the Careers Center, a training school for troubled youth -- a project that would deserve revival were revenues not scarce and had the executive done a better job of showing how operating costs would be funded.
Anne Arundel's council channeled the savings from these cuts into schools. The final $950 million budget approved last week contains 16 more teachers and guidance counselors than the one the county executive submitted. Money to plan two elementaries was added. So, unfortunately, was $750,000 toward the hugely expensive Advanced School Automation Project, a school computer system. Students need to learn computer skills, but the need for a sophisticated network linking all county schools remains unproved.
Mindful that fear of crime worries citizens most of all, the council left the executive's police budget intact. Mr. Gary made improved public safety a key campaign promise, and he was as good as his word. The county gets 20 new police officers, plus 10 firefighters and 11 detention center workers.
The average homeowner in Anne Arundel County may gripe at having to pay $142 more in taxes and fees next year. But the 3-cent increase in the property tax rate (to $2.38 per $100 of assessed value) is just enough to keep up with inflation, and the fee increases will pay for valuable services such as trash pickup, water and sewer. Generally, taxpayers should be happy with this budget. Mr. Gary and the council have given constituents what they want: a smaller government that concentrates spending on the basics.