Artificial turf fields, road funds included in county budget plan

Funding for three turf fields in southwest Baltimore County, money for road resurfacing and a renovation of the Catonsville library are among highlights of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's proposed budget.

The $3.15 billion fiscal 2018 operating budget, which includes no increase to the county's property tax or income tax rates, was presented to the County Council last week.

"The budget, on the county level, is a good day for southwest Baltimore County," said County Council Chairman Tom Quirk, a Democrat whose district includes the southwest portion of the county.

An $800,000 project to add an artificial turf field at the Community College of Baltimore County's Catonsville campus, replacing a grass field, and a $1.5 million project to replace the artificial turf fields at Lansdowne, Woodlawn and Hereford high schools with new artificial turf fields are part of the proposed budget.

"Our ongoing investment in turf fields all over the county is about access and opportunity. They are used three to five times as much as traditional natural grass fields," said Kamenetz in a statement. "These fields are literally used from morning to night, and are not affected by the weather. Their availability allows thousands more to participate in our recreation programs."

The proposed budget includes $1.5 million to renovate the Catonsville library, Quirk said. The library was founded in 1941 and has been at 1100 Frederick Road since 1963.

Ellen Kobler, a county spokeswoman, said the county has submitted a state grant application for matching funds for the project for fiscal 2019. Beyond that, no other details are available, she said.

The county is allocating $37.4 million in the budget for road resurfacing, including about $7 million in the Arbutus and Catonsville area. Specific plans haven't been finalized, Kobler said.

Replacing the roof at Johnnycake Elementary School is among a list of projects that would be funded as part of Baltimore County Public Schools' $1.3 billion Schools for our Future program, designed to renovate, replace or build additions at schools over 10 years. No cost or timeline for the project is available, Kobler said.

The budget also continues funding to place body cameras on all uniformed police officers by this fall, and provides a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for county employees.

"We present a budget that continues the progress of the past six years," Kamenetz said in a budget presentation in the County Council chambers. "We plan ahead and budget conservatively, so that we can invest in what's important to the people who live and do business here."

The property tax rate has remained unchanged for 29 years: $1.10 per $100 of assessed value, meaning property taxes on a home assessed at $300,000 would be $3,300.

The local income tax rate remains at 2.83 percent, as it has been for 25 years, and is in addition to the state income tax rate.

While the county's tax rates have remained unchanged, the amount of tax money collected by the county has increased over the years as property values and incomes have risen.

The proposed general fund budget guides government spending for the fiscal year starting July 1. The $1.993 billion proposal is slightly smaller than the current year's budget.

The proposed $3.15 billion operating budget is an increase from the year before by about $21 million, or 0.67 percent.

Members of the County Council will scrutinize the budget over the next month, but they have a limited ability to make changes.

A public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. on April 25 at the Historic Courthouse in Towson. The council is scheduled to vote on the budget on May 25.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this report.

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