Owens puts final touches on budget


The final pieces of Anne Arundel County's $1.05 billion 2001-2002 budget fell into place last night as County Executive Janet S. Owens earmarked roughly $4 million for projects dear to County Council members and various government agencies.

The last-minute proposed changes included $1 million to plan a new swimming pool complex that could open in Glen Burnie by 2004, $1 million to speed up improvements to Marley Middle School and $148,000 to assess whether to fix or rebuild two elementary schools - Pasadena and Harmans.

Owens also wants to add positions in the sheriff's department and state's attorney's office, restore $90,000 for the Circuit Court's law library and provide money for Anne Arundel Community College's cyber-crime program.

The County Council gave tentative approval late last night to Owens' budget additions. A final vote on the entire budget, which will keep the property tax rate at the current levy of 96 cents per $100 of assessed value, is scheduled for May 31. The budget year begins July 1.

Owens, who as executive holds sole power to add noneducation spending to the proposed budget, used $1 million in unanticipated state funding to fulfill some of these wishes; the rest of the $4 million was provided by shuffling money around.

"I think I've been as fair as I know how to be," Owens said yesterday afternoon.

By no means did Owens, a Democrat, make all seven council members completely happy. Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, wanted $400,000 for construction of the Woods Community Center in her hometown. Owens added $50,000 - bringing the county's two-year commitment to $150,000.

"It's certainly not all the funding we requested, but it's a step in the right direction," Vitale said.

At least one council member emerged visibly disappointed: Democrat Barbara D. Samorajczyk of Annapolis. She could not persuade Owens to dedicate money for a fire station on Annapolis Neck. The county executive stuck with her plan to do a countywide study of fire station needs.

Samorajczyk argues that Annapolis Neck residents are not adequately served by a contract arrangement the county has with the city of Annapolis to provide fire service.

But Owens aides pointed out that the budget has money for sound barriers on U.S. 50 between the Severn River and Bestgate Road in Samorajczyk's district.

For all the drama that accompanied yesterday's proposed adjustments, the overall budget would change relatively little: the $1 million in new state money that Owens earmarked amounts to one-tenth of 1 percent of the spending blueprint.

Owens began the monthlong budget season May 1 by proposing what she called a cautious plan. It asked the Fire Department to live essentially without an increase and offered the school board less than half the new money it sought.

Early on she ruled out a 1.8-cent property tax increase that would have yielded $6.8 million - and that state Sen. Robert R. Neall, a Crofton Democrat, supported as a way to make the most of the county's voter-imposed tax revenue cap.

In her original plan Owens also added $18.5 million for schools and proposed giving nonunion county employees an across-the-board pay raise of 3.75 percent - their largest since Owens was elected in 1998.

Her $858 million proposed operating budget represents a 3.6 percent increase over this year.

Some council members sought little or nothing extra from Owens. Democrat Bill D. Burlison of Odenton already had a $13 million library for Odenton in the budget. And last year, Republican John J. Klocko III, a Crofton Republican, won an $8 million library in his district.

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