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County Council Approves 'Bare Bones' Budget

Council raises concerns about future spending and revenues.

The Baltimore County Council gave unanimous approval to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's second budget, which totals more than $2.9 billion.

Council members called the budget bare bones, but at the same time raised questions about the future trajectory of increased spending over the next three years as revenues decline.

Final approval was a foregone conclusion after the council cut $208,000 last week from Kamenetz's proposed $1.6 billion general fund budget.

Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond said the cuts were relatively small because "this was a bare bones budget."

During the two weeks of budget hearings, the council noted projected future spending would outpace revenues by nearly $200 million over the next three years. That projection raises questions about the possibility of additional reductions in county employees, or increases in property and local income taxes.

"I think it's something on the horizon but I am not sure it's imminent," Almond said. "I feel like it could happen down the road but I think we're in pretty good shape."

The county has not increased its property tax rate in 24 years. The income tax rate has remained stable for 20 years.

Kamenetz has said in several past interviews that he has no interest in seeing either rate increase.

The county has also avoided employee layoffs and furloughs that plagued other local governments in the state during the last three years. The county saved nearly $20 million when 310 employees took advantage of the county's early retirement incentive plan earlier this year.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said nationally many jurisdictions are seeing their income tax collections increasing. He said he remains hopeful that the county will experience a similar uptick as the recession wanes, and more people find work.

"The economy will eventually turn around," Quirk said. "Everything is cyclical but it's probably going to take five years to get back to where we were. Between now and then we're going to have to make some tough decisions, but it's not like we're in a dire situation."

Quirk said the county, like state and federal governments, will have to learn to make do with less and prioritize.

"I think we're entering a period where we have to understand that if we want something, we're going to have to pay for it," Quirk said.

That philosophy will likely extend to the county's capital budget plans.

The council approved Kamenetz's $255 million request for schools, roads and other projects and the nearly $919 million spending plan for the next six years.

But the council, in it's budget message, noted "that the county must be vigilant in scaling back its capital program, whenever possible, to ensure that debt ratios do not exceed target levels."

School construction and renovation projects total $149 million—a 36 percent increase over last year.

The money for school projects comprises nearly 60 percent of Kamenetz's total bond request this year.

Included in that, is the completion of an addition to . The county is also fully funding renovations to Stoneleigh Elementary School.

More than $74 million has been set aside for the construction of a 200-seat addition to Sparks Elementary school, the construction of a new 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel, and another elementary school in the northwest area of the county, as well as an addition and .

Ten schools will receive air conditioning including:

  • Catonsville Elementary
  • Fort Garrison Elementary
  • Sudbrook Magnet Middle
  • Timonium Elementary
  • Franklin Elementary
  • Hebbville Elementary
  • Woodmoor Elementary
  • Hereford High School (part of renovations)
  • Stoneleigh Elementary (part of renovations)

The approved budget takes effect July 1.

Michelle Jones May 25, 2012 at 01:18 PM
It seems that this side of the county always gets forgotten...
number9dream May 25, 2012 at 02:05 PM
Michelle, This side of the County is forgotten since it votes Republican.
PMM49 May 25, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Maybe the folks who feel forgotten should just pony up and get a skybox for Ravens games and build some relationships. Not that it makes any difference of course.
Terry May 25, 2012 at 03:39 PM
Hi PMM49, any one living in the other District 1 (other side of Wilkens Ave and not 21228) are the forgotten ones. We have no real voice. I don't think we need a sky box, just some respect!
Arbutus Town Crier May 30, 2012 at 02:35 AM
a Catonsville Democrat, He believes in the quality of life issues that make southwest Baltimore County a great place to raise a family? understanding of the hardships of working families? Democrat or Republican do the right thing, there is a area completely missed 21229. Do the right of the people and correct the issues here in Arbutus 21229 Get us out of the CITY ZIP! We are ARBUTUS we have not seen any of our tax money put to use in decades

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