During the last several months there have been many articles and reports about the state of the economy locally, regionally and nationally. Revenues have dropped, and the state is now expected to have a shortfall approaching $400 million.
Howard County is no exception. The county is expecting approximately $17 million to $18 million less revenue than estimated in the fiscal year 1991 operating budget.
Our administration is taking the necessary difficult steps to make sure we end this fiscal year with a balanced budget. The county government's share of the total budget is being reduced by about $12 million. Already, more than 100 vacant positions in county government (about 6 percent of our work force) have been frozen. We are making one-time accounting adjustments to find another $3 million.
It is anticipated that the board of education and the community college will help to meet the projected deficit by reducing their expenditures.
The financial picture this year is bleak, but next year will be even worse. Revenue for the FY '92 budget is estimated to be down even further due to the lack of any carry-over from the prior year.
We anticipate $13 million less revenue in FY '92 than FY '91. Stated another way, we anticipate revenue in FY '92 to be $31 million less than the approved FY '91 budget. We have a fiscal emergency. A spending affordability committee report is due in early February. I expect to use its findings in the preparation of the FY '92 budget.
A number of other measures are being considered to balance the budget: A 5 percent hotel/motel tax (will raise about $1 million). Increase fees and user charges. Additional reductions of county employees beyond the 100 positions that are frozen. No cost of living increases for county employees. Elimination of FY '92 county employee merit raises. Elimination of FY '92 employee longevity payments. Changes in trash collection. Using less salt and more cinders on snow-covered roads. Charging higher fees for recreation programs. Reducing printing and paper costs.
These suggestions are not made lightly. They are all difficult. Our employees certainly deserve merit increases, longevity pay and adjustments. However, eliminating such measures as described will help reduce the need for layoffs.
Yet we must continue to expand the recycling program. We must begin to budget for an unrestricted fund balance to help cushion any future economic downturns.
If we tighten our belts now in an economic downturn, we will all benefit later. All of us must sacrifice in the short term to reap long term gains. We must do more with less. CHARLES I. ECKER Howard County Executive Ellicott City