Prince George's County Council member Anthony Cicoria, a Democrat elected last fall after pledging to limit government spending and taxes, loudly upbraided water and sewer commission officials at a council session this spring on the subject of official cars.
Cicoria objected to the practice of allowing 33 employes of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission to have use of their official cars around the clock, despite assurances that the cars were needed to respond to emergencies. Some of the cars are required by employe contracts, officials said, and eliminating the program would save very little in the long run.
Montgomery County, which must agree to such changes in bi-county budgets, would never agree to end the practice, one council member added. But Cicoria was undeterred.
"I don't care what Montgomery County does; I'm a Prince George's County," said Cicoria hotly, as he moved to delete funding for all 33. "I feel this particular program has been abused."
Although Cicoria failed in this endeavor, with the all-Democratic council voting to ask the WSSC to conduct its own review of the car policy, he apparently struck a responsive chord among his fellow council members. Struggling to pare budget needs to fit limited revenues, council members have scrutinized professional memberships, magazine subscriptions and travel allowances in their two-month review of the county executive's proposed budget.
In a memo to his colleagues, Cicoria demanded that the staff prepare a detailed list of all of these items in each department and agency, along with his recommendations for cuts. ("Office of Finance--pages 29-36. Cut $2,000 in printing and duplication costs from Accounting Activity because increase from $11,900 to $17,020 is too much," said one page.)
One item that apparently escaped the budget cutters was the County Council's own fiscal 1984 budget, to which its members added $45,000 during a work session held three days before they approved the budget May 31. The money brings their total 1984 budget to $2.6 million, including their salaries of $28,963 apiece, those of their aides and operating expenses.
The additional $45,000 is intended for individual newsletters for the nine council members to send to their constituents, according to Danny Dyer, an aide to council member William Amonett, a self-described conservative from Brandywine who proposed the idea.
"One of the things we were concerned about during the campaign was communication," Dyer said, "People said they wanted to be better informed, and one of the things we talked about was a newsletter. People were very receptive."
This newsletter would not be political, Dyer said. "I don't think it's going to say, 'Reelect William Amonett.' It's an information piece."
Richard Castaldi, council member from Greenbelt, said he was absent when the additional money was proposed and that he would not have supported the idea. "I was rather surprised," Castaldi said. "I feel everyone is cutting back, and everyone should make their contribution."
Cicoria went along with the idea. "It's something that's going to go directly back to the constituents to inform them of what's going on," he said. "I have no problems with that. I have problems with people spending money in other areas."
He sees none of those problem areas in his own budget. Cicoria, the only council member who maintains an office and secretary in his home district of Hyattsville as well as in the county seat of Upper Marlboro, had to borrow $1,500 each from the expense budgets of two of his council colleagues earlier this year. "I had the expenses," Cicoria said. "I felt I might get short. If they want it, I'll give it back to them."
Cicoria, who pays $693 a month in rent for his district office plus $80 a week for a secretary, said the expense is well worth it because the lack of public transportation prevents many of his elderly constituents from traveling to Upper Marlboro to share their concerns. He also said he watches other expenses carefully.
"I don't use it expense money to take trips. I take the telephone out of my own pocket, the Xerox machine, stamps, I pay out of my personal pocket.
"I don't use it to buy lunch at Jasper's," he added, an apparent jab at other council members whose reimbursements reflect heavy expenditures for county business-related lunches and dinners at that Greenbelt restaurant.
Cicoria still considers himself a fiscal conservative, although one of his expenses was incurred by putting out a newsletter that criticized the council for failing to cut enough fat out of the budget this year.
"Despite cries that our county is in serious financial trouble, our budget, along with all of the others, contains waste," the newsletter read in part.
The newsletter, entitled "Tony Talks," was sent to civic associations throughout the county as well as to Cicoria's constituents.