The room was packed in the basement of the Bloomsbury Community Center in Catonsville as Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz discussed public education, public safety and reinvesting in public infrastructure with a crowd of about 50 over coffee and doughnuts.
Kamenetz opened the Jan. 31 morning forum by telling the group that the county has done well despite tough economic times.
It's the 29th year that there has not been an increase in the property tax rate and the 21st year in which there has not been a raise in the income tax rate, Kamenetz said.
Kamenetz also touted the county's AAA rating, which allows the county to get the lowest interest rate to borrow money for projects, he said.
Kamenetz addressed a hot topic for some Catonsville residents — the lack of air conditioning in some area schools.
"There's a lot of emotion attached to the buildings, but we need to make broader decisions that make sense for everybody," he said.
Part of the county's plan is to build a new school on the grounds of Westowne Elementary School, which is not currently air condititoned, and to convert the present site of the Bloomsbury Community Center into a new school, Kamenetz said.
Kamenetz said Catonsville needs a community center and he's committed to keeping one in the area.
He said one possible solution would be to demolish Catonsville Elementary School and put a new community center in its place.
Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents the 1st District, said in response to the idea, "There's a lot of things being looked at with Catonsville Elementary School. I think southwest Baltimore County deserves a brand new community center and I will strongly push for that in the coming years."
The growth of the county has put a strain on the school infrastructure creating a need for additional seats, while a potential mandate by the state forcing the county to provide preschool to 4-year-olds could exacerbate the problem, Kamenetz said.
The county has tripled the amount of local dollars put into the school system, which Kamenetz said is, "part of our commitment to getting the job done."
Tadd Russo, a 37-year-old father of two children, one whom attends Westowne Elementary said, "I'm encouraged by his commitment but we're still in a very preliminary stage."
Kamenetz listed public safety as another top priority.
Kamenetz also cited recent achievements in public safety, such as the decrease in the county's homicide rate and violent crime.
Kamenetz said the county will be investing more than $500,000 for infrastructure improvements.
"All of our infrastructure is reaching its maximum shelf life and we're putting money into it," Kamenetz said.
Kamenetz said the county plans to add recreation field space and a homeless shelter to the Spring Grove Hospital Center.
Quirk said he supports the additional homeless shelter in the community.
"The permanent homeless shelter is one more positive step toward helping those who need it the most. I always say that the degree of civilization is often measured by how we treat the least fortunate among us. I'm confident that the majority of people in the area are very supportive of helping the homeless," Quirk said.
Other questions were asked about public safety, affordable housing and education.
"Things are going well in general and I hope you all think so," Kamenetz said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun