Balto. Co. Council approves $2.8 billion budget

Baltimore County Council members formally adopted a county budget Thursday that they say focuses on basic services while keeping the county's property tax rate flat for the 25th year in a row.

The council unanimously approved County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's $2.8 billion operating budget and $339 million capital budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. Kamenetz and council members said they homed in on public education, public safety and infrastructure.

"Despite slow growth in revenues, our government has maintained services at the level our citizens demand," Council Chairman Tom Quirk said in the council's budget address.

When Kamenetz delivered his budget address last month, he said he had focused largely on new school construction to alleviate overcrowding. The capital plan adds 700 new seats in elementary schools along the York Road corridor, 700 in the Owings Mills area and at least 500 in Catonsville. The budget also funds a plan to put wireless technology in all county schools, upgrade school security and put air conditioning in several schools.

The plan keeps the county income tax rate flat for the 21st year in a row. The budget calls for the county's smallest general-government workforce in 25 years. County employees do not receive cost-of-living increases in the budget, but there are also no furloughs or layoffs.

Last year, the county eliminated hundreds of positions through an early-retirement incentive program. Those eliminations will continue to save the county about $20 million a year, Quirk said. The county now has 600 fewer government workers than it did three years ago.

The budget includes nearly $17 million for parks and recreation projects, including funds for a regional park at the Spring Grove Hospital Center site in Catonsville; Gough Park in Perry Hall; Battle Acre Park in Dundalk; the new Sollers Point Community Center in Turners Station; and construction of a new community center in Cockeysville.

The county charter allows council members to cut from the executive's budget proposal, but they cannot add to it. They made only one cut during budget deliberations, deleting $100,000 that had been over-budgeted for gas and electric costs in the property management division because of a calculation error.

Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, said council members could not find much fat to trim, calling Kamenetz's proposal "exceptionally fiscally prudent."

Don Mohler, Kamenetz's chief of staff, said the plan is tight because of the economy.

"You don't have a lot of wiggle room," Mohler said."We really haven't been able to add bells and whistles."

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