Peril seen for tax ceiling


An aging work force, a growing community and a need for more government services all threaten the county tax ceiling, according to a study of county services released yesterday.

"The paradox is we want less taxes, we want to cut, so that is putting anyone in government in a very difficult position," said George C. Shenk Jr., chairman of the committee that drafted the 78-page report for County Executive John Gary.

The report reviewed 24 areas of county government, from the Office of Budget and Finance to the public library.

At a news conference yesterday to honor 250 residents who volunteered to research and write the report, Mr. Shenk warned that if county growth continues at its current rate, the citizens may have to have to choose between fewer services or higher taxes.

"We might have to do one trash pick up a week instead of two," he said. "We might have to have more children in a classroom," he said.

Mr. Gary said he had not read the report, but defended his promise not to raise taxes. "I think we're managing within the tax cap as long as we don't have horrendous inflation."

Mr. Shenk also warned that the county's budget can't handle the number of county workers who will retire over the next decade.

"As older employees begin to retire its going to translate to a very high cost to the county taxpayer," he said. "Government is made up of people, that's where the real costs are. I think that's where our problems will be."

Mr. Gary agreed. "We've got a serious pension problem," he said. "It's unfair, it doesn't treat everyone the same, and we've got to look at it."

The report also recommended:

* Changing the merit system of employment. "It does not lend itself to a motivated work force," the report stated. "Too many employees are topped out, we have too little employee turn over and the evaluation system does not work."

* Implementing the school system's Advanced Student Automation System (ASAP). "We believe we cannot allow our students to be at a disadvantage," the report said. "The very near future will bring technology to everyone. Our system must be prepared."

* Privatizing the operation of county parks and charging user fees at all facilities.

* Increasing to $225 per household the annual rate to cover the full cost of collection and recycling of household trash.

* Hiring a person to draft legislation requested by the county executive.

* Developing a "master plan" to update the county's computer system. "Labor costs are high because the job must still be done without any efficiency of automation," the report said

* Creating a committee to review and update the county charter.

* Establishing a schedule of monthly meetings between the county executive and the mayor of Annapolis and their staffs.

* Setting the police chief's term of office at about six years. Now the chief serves at the pleasure of the county executive. The county executive should be permitted to replace a chief for cause, the report said.

* Creating a shuttle bus to transfer low-income or minority students from their neighborhoods to the campus of Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold. The report also recommended AACC receive financial aid from the county and state.

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