By Patrick Brooks and Charles Brown
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writers
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz proposed a $1.99 billion general fund budget for the 2018 fiscal year that would not raise income taxes for the 25th year in a row and keep property taxes steady for the 29th straight year.
When state aid, federal aid, and water and sewer payments are added in, the total county operating budget is roughly $3.15 billion.
The spending plan, which was officially released Thursday, includes $1.9 billion – or 60.4 percent of the entire operating budget – for public schools, libraries and the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC).
A large part of this investment is part of Kamenetz’s 10-year $1.3 billion Schools for Our Future program, which is focused on upgrading deteriorating facilities and providing modern learning environments for children and teachers.
According to county officials, the county is currently building 16 new schools, 12 additions and seven significant renovations, including $7 million for initial costs toward a new middle school in Perry Hall and an expansion of Pine Grove Middle School.
“We have reviewed the capacity issues in our middle schools and the proposed budget will add additional seats to alleviate projected overcrowding in the northeast part of the county,” Kamenetz said in his press release to the county.
The expansion, which would relieve the overcrowded Perry Hall area, is set to include a new 1,500-seat middle school and a 200- to 300-seat addition to Pine Grove Middle School in Carney. The new schools are set to open in 2021.
Kamenetz has also proposed spending $357 million on public safety, a 2.48 percent increase from 2017; and $313 million on general government activities such as health, recreation, public works and economic development, a 2.86 percent increase.
To help solve the problem of the county’s aging infrastructure, Kamenetz’ proposed budget includes $470 million for upgrading water and sewer systems, including replacing and re-lining water and sewer pipes and upgrading regional reservoirs, treatment plants and pumping stations.
“It sounds like it is a solid, strong budget,” Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, a Democrat from Reisterstown, was quoted as saying in a statement to the Baltimore Sun.
The proposed budget also includes plans to complete the Eastern Family Resource Center, a comprehensive facility that will provide expanded health services, shelter beds for men and women and resources for people in need.
“Women and children who need shelter often are victims of domestic violence and need a safe place to stay for weeks before they secure permanent housing,” Kamenetz said in his press release to the county. “Our new center doubles the number of transitional housing beds for women and children.”
As outlined in the budget, most of the revenue – about 30 percent – comes from property taxes. State aid, income taxes, fees and other revenue, federal aid, service taxes and fund balance make up the rest of the county’s revenue stream.
The vast majority – $900 million – of the county’s $1.99 billion general fund is set aside for schools and libraries, a decrease of 5.12 percent from 2017.
“A special thank you to @kevinkamenetz & @BaltCoGov for another budget supportive of the 112k+ students of @BaltCoPS! #TeamBaltCo #TeamBCPS” tweeted Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance after the budget was released.
The county will finish the year with a surplus of roughly $230 million. About $100 million of that is going to be placed in the city’s required “rainy-day fund.” The surplus will be slightly down from this year’s surplus of nearly $250 million.
Kamenetz said in his press release that the surplus is necessary to maintain positive relations with the agencies that grade the county’s bonds, which are issued to finance construction projects. Baltimore County has AAA ratings, in part because of the money cushion the county keeps, he said.
“We know we are fiscally responsible in Baltimore County, and the experts have told us that we are fiscally responsible,” Kamenetz said in his press release to the county.
Council members will review the budget over the next month, but they are only allowed to make changes that decrease spending. A public hearing on the plan is scheduled for 6 p.m. April 26 at the Historic Courthouse in Towson.