One man in Randazzo Park influences fate of spending plan, council approves $1.59 billion budget

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

One anonymous man who bent the ear of County Councilman John Grasso in Randazzo Park was the key factor in the council choosing an average of $8 a year tax bill reduction for homeowners instead of 20 additional teachers to stabilize school enrollment.

Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, who has been advocating for reducing classroom sizes all year, sided with the lower tax rate after he talked to the resident in Randazzo Park.

“I don't feel good about it, but I know it is what the people want. It bothers me big time,” Grasso said about voting against the additional teachers.

Grasso was the swing vote in the decision that would have set the county rate at 90.4 cents per $100 assessed value instead of the proposed 90.2 cents. That would have freed up $1.5 million for the 20 additional teachers bringing the total of new teachers to 106. This was the magic number the school system needed to keep classrooms level and account for enrollment growth. Instead the council will add 86 teachers — 86 more than were in last year’s budget.

The difference between the two tax rates was an average of $8 a year for a $400,000 home. Both rates were lower than the current rate of 90.7 cents per $100. The 90.4 rate would have been the maximum rate allowed under the county’s cap.

The amendment adding teachers was defeated 4-3. Grasso; Derek Fink, R-Pasadena; Jerry Walker, R-Crofton and Council Chairman Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville voted to defeat amendment. The Schuh administration opposed the higher rate.

County Councilman Pete Smith, D-Severn, offered a compromise to cut the tax rate to 90.3 cents per $100 assessed value. This would have freed enough money for about 10 teachers. But that amendment was defeated as well.

The council voted unanimously to approve the 90.2 cents per $100 rate and voted 6-1 to approve the county’s $1.59 billion fiscal 2019 budget. Budget highlights include the new teachers, increased pay for police officers, a tax credit for public safety officers — introduced by Walker — and increased construction money for three aging elementary schools.

Peroutka, who voted against the budget, again voted on amendments to bring the budget as close to what he called constitutional.

“In a more perfect world we would take inventory of those things that we are required to do constitutionally and we would make (the budget) an analysis of what that would cost and what we would need to run local government,” Peroutka said. “Then tax people appropriately to that end.”

School officials said they were pleased by the funding of new teachers and six more mental health care professionals. The county’s contribution is above maintenance of effort, the minimum required by law to maintain classrooms.

There will be some increases in class sizes “at the margins,” said Alex Szachnowicz, Anne Arundel County Public Schools chief operating officer.

“We are not minimizing the 86 additional teachers,” Szachowicz said. “It puts a big dent in our task.”

County Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, led the charge to free money for the 106 total teachers. He voted for the final budget but lamented Grasso’s vote explanation. He had support from Smith and Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills.

“What if he had talked to a parent who had a kid in an overcrowded classroom instead?” Trumbauer said.

This story was updated to correct the misspelling of Councilman Chris Trumbauer's name.
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