By Andrea F. Siegel, The Baltimore Sun
7:59 PM EDT, April 16, 2012
Anne Arundel County residents would see their property taxes increase under the $1.2 billion budget proposed Monday by County Executive John R. Leopold, but that would be partially offset by a drop in trash pickup frequency and fees. County workers, meanwhile, would see an end to furloughs but receive no raises.
Leopold's spending plan for the year that begins July 1 includes boosting the tax rate from 91 cents to 94.1 cents per $100 of assessed value. For a home with an assessed value of $261,200, the forecast countywide average, taxes would go up by about $128 for the year, officials said.
Leopold called the plan "fiscally responsible" and said state education mandates were driving up county costs.
Council members, still reviewing details, were generally pleased with the lean plan. But school officials contended that Leopold's proposal falls about $12 million short of the funding requirements set by the state.
"The county executive is breaking the law by not meeting the maintenance-of-effort requirements of the state, for the second year in a row," said schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell.
The budget plan calls for a reduction in trash collection fees — but also in the frequency of trash pickups.
Trash collection would drop from twice to once a week, a cost saving of nearly $2 million for the county, which comes as residents recycle more. For households, it will mean a reduction in the trash bill from $315 to $298.
Leopold also proposed a $189 million capital budget plan for the 2013 fiscal year, with more than half of that targeted for school projects.
"Clearly, the state mandates have been the heavy-handed hammer which has crowded out the rest of county government," Leopold said, referring to school funding requirements.
Leopold said spending on schools will increase by nearly $5 million to meet those requirements. His proposal also notes that shifting part of teacher pension costs from the state to local government is expected to cost the county $11.5 million — though that could change if the General Assembly is called into a special session to deal with the state budget.
Key education provisions include funding the Board of Education's request to add 62 teachers — but not the nearly $34 million in pay raises and other increases the public school system negotiated with the teachers union. Leopold's spending plan also would move forward on overhauling or replacing Severna Park High School.
Neither Maxwell nor the teachers union was pleased with the proposals.
"We have professionals, some of whom have not seen any [raises] in six years," said Tim Mennuti, teachers union president.
Maxwell said Leopold did not follow the capital budget priority list set out by the Board of Education and that the county executive is not funding projects when bond financing and labor costs are favorable.
Council members welcomed an end to employee furloughs and were pleased that some of the $15 million in anticipated revenue from the opening in June of the casino at Arundel Mills would go toward public safety in that area. They said they have yet to comb through the voluminous budget books they received after Leopold's presentation.
Firefighters saw the budget proposal as being balanced on their backs. Firefighters would work another 13 shifts a year under a return to a pre-2006 work schedule, and about 70 positions that were vacant in the past year would be eliminated.
"That's a little presumptuous on their part to even have that in there," said Craig Oldershaw, the head of the firefighters union. "That is to be decided by an arbitrator — unless they've got in their minds that if we win the arbitration, they are just going to ignore it and do whatever they want to do."
Firefighters, who have approved a no-confidence vote in their chief, may take a similar vote on Leopold if they win at arbitration and Leopold doesn't propose funding it, Oldershaw said. Three police unions have voted no confidence in their chief and Leopold.
"We are not being made whole," said O'Brien Atkinson, president of the largest county police union, expressing dissatisfaction with a budget proposal that offers them little beyond restoring allowances for uniforms and the like.
Leopold said he would not raise taxes "to meet union demands."
The county is at an impasse with 11 of its 13 unions, including the nine public safety unions. Unions that represent blue-collar and office workers reached tentative agreements with the county, Leopold said.
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