Two people gave the Baltimore County Council their thoughts Tuesday on the county’s $3.3 billion budget proposal — and that was two more people than did so last year.
The hearing in Towson was the only opportunity for the public to comment on the budget, which will guide the government’s spending for the 12-month period that starts July 1.
Nobody spoke at last year’s budget hearing. Council chairman Julian Jones said he was glad to get some input this time.
“Last year, we were begging people to speak,” said Jones, a Woodstock Democrat.
Mark Baskervill, a Harford County resident who leads the Baltimore County Campaign for Liberty, asked council members not to support a cost-of-living raise for county government employees. He also cautioned against borrowing more money to finance county construction projects.
Baskervill pointed out that one of the credit rating agencies that evaluates the county’s finances, Moody’s, recently revised its outlook for the county to “negative.”
“I would recommend spending cuts rather than increasing the debt to finance whatever programs you’re trying to do,” Baskervill said.
Moody’s still gives the county its highest rating of triple-A, but noted that the county faces “mounting challenges” and the need to borrow more money to pay for upcoming construction projects, including schools.
The day before Moody’s changed its outlook, The Baltimore Sun reported on red flags raised by a county advisory committee that the county is on track to run up against its limits for borrowing while not setting aside enough money in savings.
The other person to testify at Tuesday’s hearing, Abby Beytin, head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, urged council members to support the section of the budget that allocates funding for Baltimore County Public Schools. She praised County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for including money in the budget for more counselors, social workers, psychologists and police officers for schools.
“There is no excess in this BCPS budget. It is just the beginning of making up for the chronic underfunding of education that has occurred over the decades,” Beytin said.
After a lack of input at the budget hearing last year, the County Council passed a bill that will require additional hearings starting next year — but earlier in the process. The county executive will be required to hold two public hearings before introducing the budget. The council will still hold its budget hearing as well.
Kamenetz’s proposed $3.3 billion budget includes keeping the property tax and income tax rates the same as they’ve been for more than two decades. Keeping the tax rates flat will result in the county collecting about $17 million more, due to increasing property taxes and incomes.
Council members will spend the next three weeks scrutinizing the budget and questioning Kamenetz’s department directors about their spending plans. Council members have limited ability to make changes to the budget and will discuss any changes during a meeting on May 17 before adopting the budget on May 24.