Announcing what he called the “leanest and most conservative budget ever that the county council will see,” Harford County Executive David R. Craig released his proposed FY10 budget in Bel Air Tuesday afternoon. The total proposed budget is down over 8% from the current fiscal year to $811,556,090. The proposed Operating Budget is down $37.8 million, including a $22.9 million reduction in the General Fund. The proposed Capital budget is down $36.7 million compared with FY09.
Craig said he developed the budget with “everything on the table” and that “raising revenues was not an option.” No new taxes and no increases in fees are included in the proposal.
Craig said cuts to the proposed Operating Budget will not include layoffs, but will include 5 furlough days for all government employees, including elected officials. Furloughs would not include board of education or public safety employees. Craig said that due to the furloughs, county government would “most likely shut down for 4 or 5 days” but details would be determined after the budget was approved by the county council at the end of May. Craig added “This is real. We’re being asked to do less with less.” Craig also said the budget included no new positions, no salary step increases, no cost of living adjustments and no pay increases for county government employees.
Other savings measures implemented included a reduction in the take-home fleet of county vehicles, changes in post-retirement health care benefits for employees, the elimination of some temporary positions, restrictions on overtime and suspension of the county’s tuition reimbursement program and allowances for cleaning uniforms. Also under consideration is a move to go “paperless” in some instances and to turn off computers when they were not in use. Craig said other counties were also cutting back but that “others are worse because of their spending habits of the last few years.”
Spared from the budget axe was the Harford County Sheriff’s Office which would receive an increase of 1.8% or just over $1 million in the Operating Budget in part to annualize 10 new deputy positions and for fleet rental expenses. Capital funds of $2.9 million would also be provided to begin construction of a new Southern Precinct in Edgewood.
Also spared on the operating side was the Harford County Board of Education which would receive $210,914,800, unchanged from FY09. The proposal restores approximately $4 million in funding that the board had returned to the county during the current fiscal year, in response to the County Executive’s request for assistance in balancing the budget.
Among other government agencies and departments, General Fund allocations would decrease for Harford Community College (-5.0%), Harford County Libraries (-3.3%), and Community Grants & Grant Matches (-12.8%). Operating funding for the Volunteer Fire Companies would remain unchanged.
In the Capital Budget, Craig said some projects were being moved back one year, but projects with contracts already signed, including the new Bel Air and Edgewood High Schools and the Fallston Senior Recreation Center would proceed. As expected, $20.4 million in funding for Campus Hills Elementary School was included in the budget proposal, but Craig said that would be amended to transfer funds to Red Pump Elementary pending a vote by the school board and the county council. Other large appropriations in the Capital Budget included funding for the expansion of the Harford County Detention Center, improvements to the Cedar Lane Sports Complex the development of the Schucks Road Regional Complex.
Craig said county revenues had declined due to the rise in unemployment and the decrease in housing starts and home sales.
But Craig also said anticipated actions by the state would reduce revenues adding “the state acts in a bewildering fashion” in handling their own “fiscal mess.” He said the state plans to push costs onto local governments, including what Craig called “the most egregious” plan for the state to keep a portion of piggy back income tax, which is normally returned to the county.
Looking ahead, Craig said the budget reflected what county government could do without for this year and next and that he looked at this year as the middle of a 3-year cycle and with a potential for a rebound in FY12.
Craig’s written statement echoed the large sign posted at the press conference:
Thanks to years of conservative fiscal management, Harford County has been and continues to remain financially sound. Through prudent budgeting, strategic planning, and open lines of communication, most importantly with our citizens, we are effectively dealing with the pressures brought on by a problematic global economy and Maryland’s State budget deficits.