is on hold but not dead
of the county police force has been delayed for about eight
months, but, according to officials, both the need and the plan
to cope with it are still alive despite the withdrawal of
ordinances that would have authorized implementation of the
first phase of the five-year plan.
The plan to
increase authorized strength of the force by 22 officers and
seven civilians will most likely be incorporated into the
Department of Public Safety's requested budget for the fiscal
year that begins on July 1, 2009, police chief Rick Gregory said
after a meeting of County Council's finance committee at which
Councilman William Bell announced that he and Jea Street were
withdrawing their proposed ordinances from consideration.
Although the decision to do so obviously had been made earlier,
Bell's announcement came after acting chief financial officer
Edward Milowicki and chief administrative officer Jeffrey
Bullock set the stage by telling the committee that county government is in dire
straits -- even worse than had been anticipated earlier in this
The committee --
which like all standing committees includes the entire Council
-- voted to request from the administration a
"comprehensive review of every program we run," including how
each is financed in order to provide a context in advance of
receiving the proposed budget for next fiscal year. With that in
hand, "we can start realizing what we can afford," said Council
president Paul Clark.
"It's not going to
go away. ... As the economy declines, crime is going to
increase," Street said referring to the proposed expansion of
the police force and the complement which mans the 9-1-1
emergency call center.
Bell said the
sponsors were withdrawing the ordinances because of the extent
of declines in the national and local economies. "We know that the need is
there, but we also realize that the timing of these two
proposals is not right," he said. "It's very clear a lot of
folks have begun to feel the pain of the global economy."
He did not refer to
the county's fiscal situation as a reason, but said the
decision was made after extensive consultation with County
Executive Christopher Coons and members of his administration.
"We agree with the decision," Bullock said.
Obviously disappointed by
what some observers viewed as a surprise turn of events, Gregory
said he was grateful for the opportunity to present the
department's case to the public. While he indicated confidence
that it will receive due consideration as Coons prepares his
proposed fiscal 2010 budget for presentation to Council in
March, he said that, meanwhile, that "there are other things we
can do and do less of and do in a different way."
He added that the
department's priorities are to reduce the amount of time it
takes to respond to calls for service, to improve the proportion
of crimes that are 'cleared' by arrests or otherwise and to
provide officers additional time for proactive community
policing and preventing crime.
Attenders at the
committee meeting on Oct. 28 could sense a figurative sigh of
relief among Council members after Bell's announcement. While it
was initially thought they would be hard put to vote against the
expansion plan, adverse public reaction to the prospect of a 4%
to 5% tax increase next year to finance it created a dilemma.
"People don't want
to have their taxes raised until it hits them personally," Clark
Street said that
will happen when someone makes a 9-1-1 call "and, instead of
getting a police officer they get a case number."
said, however, that her sense of feeling at a public meeting she
had sponsored was that most people there supported both the plan
and the tax increase. "We're going to have to do this sooner or
later. I hope the plan comes back in the budget cycle [and] I
think people will support it," she said.
said the problem with the proposal was that it was put forth --
as are some other proposals -- as individual items out of
context with the overall budget.
Milowicki told the committee that county government 'lost' $11.2
million through revenue declines during the first three months
of this fiscal year. That, both of them said, effectively wiped
out the gains provided by successive increases in the
property-tax rate enacted in 2006 and 2007. There was no rate
increase enacted this year.
Even lower than
expected proceeds from the real estate transfer tax accounted
for $8.9 million of the 'loss' and less activity in the recorder
of deeds office added another $1 million.
spending is down slightly from what was budgeted, it is now
projected that county government will spend $21.9 million more
than it takes in this fiscal year. That expected shortfall is
$9.5 million greater than originally anticipated.
said, "that could get worse as we go along."
As a result of the
deficit, budget reserves are now expected to drop from $64.1
million at the start of the fiscal year to an estimated $37.2
million on next June 30.
With reserves "decreasing at an
accelerating rate," it is necessary to reduce the level of
services without waiting for the next budget, Bullock said.
Clark said he "can see nowhere to
cut more out of the budget" and that any expectation of the
state General Assembly coming to the aid of the county is "a
Absent a major tax
increase, "next year at this time we'll be looking at layoffs
and some significant reduction of services," Bullock said.
"We'll have to cut things that matter."
He was not specific about how
large a tax increase will be considered necessary, but did say
that just making up the revenue loss so far this year would
translate into something like a 13% increase.
"This is a very serious
situation," Bullock said.