The Baltimore County Council formally approved a fiscal 2015 operating budget Thursday that sends more than half of the overall $2.9 billion allocation to the county's school system.
County schools will receive $1.5 billion in the budget, as well as $19.3 million for capital projects, including air-conditioning in several older schools, additions and maintenance of buildings. Officials say the county school system has the second-oldest stock of facilities in the state, and many facilities are considered overcrowded.
Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat, said the budget reflects residents' expectations that education should come first in county spending. "A defining characteristic of Baltimore County is the confidence citizens have in our public school system," she said.
School Superintendent Dallas Dance, praised the administration of County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, which crafted the budget proposal. The school system has come under fire in recent years regarding facilities, specifically the lack of air conditioning in many schools.
"I've worked with several school systems, and this is by far the most cooperation I've seen from an administration," Dance said.
Council members also promoted a 15.4 percent increase in spending for emergency social services aimed at helping residents in need, including $2.5 million toward a new Eastern Family Resource Center on the campus of MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and $4 million for a new Westside Shelter on the grounds of Spring Grove State Hospital.
Bevins noted the budget holds the county property tax rate steady at $1.10 per $100 of assessed value. The county income tax rate also remains unchanged in the budget.
While council members had made few changes in Kamenetz's spending proposal, on Thursday they expressed concern over the budget's plan to transfer 28 positions in the Baltimore County Public Library system to the county's Office of Information Technology, starting July 1. While members supported the intent of consolidating services to reduce costs, they admonished the administration for not seeking prior approval from the library trustees.
The council noted in a joint memo that library director Jim Fish is retiring in June and wrote, "The council's strong preference would have been to wait until the incoming library director could have reviewed such a change."
Paula Miller, a Colorado library administrator who was named as the new county library director, will take over the job this summer.