Steuart Pittman: Steve Schuh's budget would fail to grow county

Chase Cook
Contact Reporterccook@capgaznews.com

The County Executive’s budget is proof his priorities failed to produce the revenues necessary to keep up with the county’s growing population, said Steuart Pittman, the Democratic candidate for County Executive.

Pittman was critical of County Executive Steve Schuh’s $1.59 billion operating budget and $1.57 billion capital budgets made public Tuesday. Schuh’s education funding doesn’t go far to meet even the lower end of recommendations by the school system, Pittman said. The school system released its requests alongside red or green ink to symbolize underfunded or fully-funded needs.

There was a lot of red.

“We are growing by leaps and bounds but are failing to hire and retain the teachers, firefighters, and police that we need to serve our growing population,” Pittman said.

The Board of Education will go before the County Council at 1 p.m. Monday to give an overview of their requests and what the county executive proposed.

Pittman and Schuh are the only two candidates running in the County Executive race.

Schuh has positioned his budgets and goals as catalysts to the county’s growth. The county executive inherited a budget recovering from the effects of the 2008 recession in which state funding dwindled and property values decreased. Over time some state money has been restored, but Schuh has promoted growth to increase the county’s revenues and boost the county’s financial state. And throughout that time Schuh has found ways to cut taxes or fees that he said would benefit residents and business owners.

In his budget speech Tuesday, Schuh touted reducing the trajectory of government growth and passing those savings onto taxpayers.

“We have also reduced or eliminated entirely nine categories of taxes and fees, most of which disproportionately hit lower-income residents,” he said. “All told, we have reduced taxes and fees cumulatively by $67 million dollars over the last 3 years.”

These cuts include yearly reductions to the property tax rate, as mandated by the county’s property tax cap. Schuh also cut income taxes, fees on water and sewer hookups, the amusement tax fee and worked out a deal with Live! Casino that could forgo up to $36 million in property taxes to help the company build a convention center.

Pittman counters the amusement tax didn’t reduce movie ticket prices, the sewer and water hookups didn’t decrease housing prices and the Live! Casino deal was “a gift that taxpayers couldn’t afford to give.”

A 2018 report from the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation showed an average 8.9 percent increase value compared to January 2015’s values. This was an average of both residential and commercial.

These tax cuts have benefited everyone within the county, residents and business owners, said Owen McEvoy, Schuh’s spokesman.

“It is a political criticism and the same old tired campaign rhetoric that nobody frankly believes,” McEvoy said. “It lowered the cost of new business formation you can see that in the booming economy in Anne Arundel County. The county executive isn’t shy his tax relief benefited every resident of Anne Arundel County.”

Education funding

The County Council is reviewing the county executive’s budget and will make revisions before a final vote in June. Candidates running for County Council won’t get a say on that budget, but The Capital interviewed them to hear their thoughts on Schuh’s proposals:

District 1

Democratic Candidate Sarah Lacey said she like the changes to create the Office of Transportation and had concerns the general employee raise since the county was struggling to hire teachers and police officers.

One of her biggest concerns is education — including a decrease in instructional materials and supplies.

“I was surprised to see the allocations even less than the superintendent recommended.”

Incumbent Democrat Pete Smith said he concerns about infrastructure projects in the Severn community as well as education funding.

Republican candidate Kimberly Burns did not return requests for comment.

District 2

Democratic candidate Allison Pickard said she was “shocked” at the low number of teaching positions and guidance counselors hired in the budget. Schuh proposed 44 teachers and six special education teachers, far below the number of teachers requested by the Board of Education.

“We continue to place an increased burden on our schools to play a key role in responding to crises, improving academics, and understanding and solving students’ issues outside of the classroom,” Pickard said. “We should be equally responsible for giving them the resources to be successful in these complex tasks.”

Democratic candidate Candy Fontz and Republican candidate Tom Gardner did not return a request for comment.

District 3

Democratic candidate Debbie Ritchie criticized the spending plan for not adding firefighters or increasing the pay of teachers who gave up raises during the recession.

At least give them something to reduce the inequity between teachers hired at higher pay but the same experience as those on staff, she said.

“What does that say about our people,” Ritchie said. “It is almost like we don’t respect the fact you stayed with us.”

Republican candidates Dana Smallwood-Friia and Nathan Volke did not return a request for comment.

District 4

Republican candidate Torrey Snow said he was pleased to see pay raises for teachers, general county employees and police officers.

Funding for GORC Park is a boon to District 4 as it will provide more incentives for children to play outside, Snow said.

There is still room to discuss the growing school populations and the need for counseling and social development.

“Non-profits, religious organizations, and concerned residents should consider opportunities to fill some gaps, especially in the area of counseling and social development,” Snow said.

Democratic incumbent Andrew Pruski did not return a request for comment.

District 5

Republican candidate Amanda Fiedler said she was disappointed that more firefighters weren’t included in the budget.

The budget also doesn’t include any new school counselors despite the several high-profile school shooting incidents over the last few years, she said.

“That adds an element of proactive response and getting to kids before a tragic event happens,” Fielder said.

Republican incumbent Michael Peroutka and Democratic candidate Dawn Myers did not return a request for comment.

District 6

Democratic candidate Lisa Rodvien said the budget is “woefully lacking” in education spending. Higher class sizes will result, and the budget doesn’t account for teachers who lost raises during the recession, she said.

“Mr. Schuh has made it clear he doesn’t care about catching folks up.”

Democratic candidate Scott MacMullan said the budget is inadequate for students’ needs.

“When it comes to class size and hiring teachers, we aren’t just treading water, we are drowning,” MacMullan said.

Republican candidate Michael Christman didn’t respond to a request for comment.

District 7

Republican candidate Jonathan Boniface said he supported the county’s decision to continue funding the Crofton High School construction despite a delay in state money. Boniface led the charge in getting the new school built.

He does have concerns about decreased funding for revitalization projects at Edgewater, Richard Henry Lee and Tyler Heights Elementary schools, all of which have been struggling with capacity issues.

“All three of them are in desperate need of revitalization,” Boniface said.

Republican candidate Jessica Haire also supported the Crofton High School development and “loved” money for infrastructure improvements on Loch Haven Road on Route 214.

She did think the budget could use more teachers and more money for revitalizing Edgewater Elementary school.

“I would love to see more money go toward that as a District 7 resident,” Haire said.

Democratic candidate James Kitchin said Schuh’s rhetoric about historic education spending doesn’t go far enough to spend what the county needs to sustain education growth.

The proposed property tax cut money — about $1.5 million in reduced revenue — could be used to pay for more teachers and other education needs, Kitchin said.

“After having a child, if I spend $5 more dollars in food that would have historic levels of spending in my household, but it isn’t enough to sustain another life,” Kitchin said.

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