Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. this week submitted his 2020 budget proposal, prioritizing quality education, economic opportunity, sustainability, healthy and safe communities, and transparent and accountable government. The $3.4 billion budget addresses a structural shortfall while ensuring that the County maintains its AAA bond rating.
More than $1.8 billion of the entire operating budget, supports public schools, libraries and the Community College of Baltimore County. The operating budget includes a 2% COLA (Cost-of-Living Adjustment) for teachers and support personnel, along with funding for an additional 16 school counselors, 15 social workers, 4 psychologists, 50 special education teachers, and 21 English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers. The capital budget accelerates funding for the County’s Schools for our Future program, through which the county contributes two dollars for every State dollar dedicated to school construction. It also includes $15 million in planning and design funding for a new Landsdowne High School.
Targeting public safety, the budget includes funding for a new Opioid Strategy Coordinator, two new Police Activity League (PAL) centers, and an additional $500,000 for volunteer fire companies. The spending plan also proposes a resolution to the ongoing dispute between the County and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), whereby officers will receive back pay and grade changes to increase pay.
The County targets infrastructure system preservation by investing more than $37 million for road resurfacing and curb and gutter maintenance, and $2 million for traffic calming.
The proposal increases the County’s income tax rate to 3.2%, from 2.83%, and adds new fees on development and additional charges on residents’ monthly cellphone and cable bills.
It’s clear that there is no path forward to maintain our quality of life and meet our growing challenges without bringing in new revenues. That is why I’m asking the council to approve an increase in the income tax rate to 3.2 percent. For a resident earning $50,000 per year, this amounts to about $15 more per month. The last time the income tax was raised was in 1992. The cold war had just ended, Bill Clinton was elected president, a gallon of gas cost just over $1, and our county’s education budget was about $356 million – less than half of the current budget.
This proposal will bring Baltimore County in line with the income tax rate in our state’s other large, diverse jurisdictions.
We’re also asking developers to pay their share. In other counties, developers pay impact fees on new homes and businesses –fees help pay for the increased infrastructure necessary to accommodate growth. In partnership with the council, we’ll be working to enact a surcharge on new development in line with what other counties impose.
And as many families have moved away from landline telephones, the county has lost critical revenue from taxes placed on those lines. So I’m proposing a small tax on cell phone lines – $3.50 per line – a charge similar to what’s already placed on land lines. In addition, in the course of our cable negotiations, we are planning for the introduction of a PEG fee – a surcharge on cable television bills that covers the cost of public, educational and governmental programming.
Ahead of submitting this proposal, County Executive Olszewski assembled a blue-ribbon commission on fiscal sustainability and sought input directly from constituents at town hall meetings across the County, and introduced an interactive budget tool which empowered residents to simulate balancing County services with the realities of current revenue.
The County Council will hold a hearing on the budget on April 30 at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers. The Council must adopt a budget by June 1.