Spurred by a brighter economy, Baltimore County's executive proposed a $1.5 billion budget yesterday that avoids a tax increase while strengthening schools, police and older communities such as Towson, Lansdowne and Dundalk.
C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger's 1997-1998 plan, which funds all priorities for county classrooms, continues the cooperation between county and school officials that began last year -- and should avert the squabbling that has marked some previous budgets.
It would add dozens of teachers and police officers. And it would deliver a $37 million jump-start to major projects, including road repaving, farm preservation and a 400-seat addition at Deer Park Middle School in the fast-growing northwest.
"There's something for everyone," Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, said after the executive presented the budget to the council.
Ruppersberger's budget proposal for the fiscal year starting July 1 would provide pay increases for police and teachers, and 3 percent bonus payments for other county workers.
The budget "shows once again [Ruppersberger's] commitment XTC to public safety," said L. Timothy Caslin, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 4. Police are to get the second half of an 8.5 percent pay raise over two years, plus the 3 percent bonus.
But Kevin B. O'Connor, president of Baltimore County Firefighters Union Local 1311, disagreed. Firefighters would receive only the bonus.
"Dutch views the fire service as an afterthought," O'Connor said, dismissing the new trucks, medic units and money for volunteers that Ruppersberger proposed. "New emphasis needs to be put on people."
Ruppersberger's budget does not raise the general tax rate. But if the County Council leaves the property tax rate unchanged, the average homeowner will pay $13 more, due to higher assessments.
In addition, a 10.5 percent increase in water and sewer charges will cost the average user $42.55 more a year. By law, the fund used for piped water and sewer systems must be self-supporting.
"Thanks to an expanding economy and good fiscal management, we are able to fund essential services without continuing reductions in other areas," Ruppersberger said.
Education, public safety and programs preserving older communities got most of the $55.6 million in new money.
The difference is that other departments, from libraries to parks, were not cut further to pay for it. For example, $375,000 is included to reopen a library in the Loch Raven area and a reading room in Jacksonville, where libraries were closed in 1993. Community colleges, cut by $2.3 million last year by the council, are slated for a 6 percent increase.
Ruppersberger proposed helping older communities by fixing and maintaining older schools, raising neighborhood grant funds from $150,000 to $500,000, and repaving 350 more miles of roadways. He also would add special police patrols along commercial strips on seven major roads linking the city and county, and would offer tax credits to landlords who keep up older apartment complexes.
For children, money is going to the schools for new teachers, teacher mentors and classrooms, as well as to police for four new officers to work with juveniles and for more Police Athletic League recreation centers.
The single largest cash infusion -- $37 million -- will finance construction projects at five schools, including money to speed work on a 400-seat addition at Deer Park Middle. It also will pay for alley and road paving projects, $1.5 million to replenish the economic development commission's revolving loan fund and $300,000 to buy development rights on more farms.
Using cash instead of borrowing money by selling bonds will allow the county to catch up on enough overdue projects to begin planning in 1999 for a badly needed 1,680-bed county jail, Ruppersberger said.
School officials were especially happy this year. They got virtually everything they asked for, including $47 million over two years for neglected building maintenance.
"We're very pleased with the treatment the county executive has given education. It met all of our priorities for the year," Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said.
Overall, the proposed school operating budget includes $1.25 million more than the level required to receive state aid, and adds $17 million to the current year's $598 million budget. That includes $3.5 million for 134 new teachers to serve the 2,000 new students expected in September.
Ruppersberger also included enough money to hire 44 more police officers, including 40 for the patrols along commercial strips.
Police would get a new unit to cut the high rate of false burglar alarms -- about 70,000 false alarms are received annually. The executive said he wanted to create a registration system for private alarms so owners could be fined if their alarms went off too often.
The County Council will review the budget; chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, warned that department heads shouldn't take council approval for granted. "Cuts recommended by the [council] auditor will be made, unless they can convince us otherwise," he said.
Other members weren't eager to cut the tax rate.
"There are more services needed," said Councilman Stephen G. Sam Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat. "I fear if we cut the tax rate, we'll be stuck with raising next year."
The County Council public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 30 at Loch Raven High School, 1212 Cowpens Ave.
Pub Date: 4/15/97