New classroom space — possibly a new school — and a park at Spring Grove Hospital Center are included in the 2014 Baltimore County budget unveiled by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Monday.
The $2.8 billion operating and $339 million capital budget include $200 million to add more than 3,000 new seats to county elementary schools, with a minimum of 500 in Catonsville.
"That's some of the best news that I've heard in a long time," 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk. "The 500 new seats for elementary schools in Catonsville was very needed."
Other budget highlights include funding for a new STEM building at the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and $50,000 in funding for Neighbor Space, a land use organization. The budget requires no additional taxes, with no increase in the property tax rate for the 25th year in a row and no increase in the income tax rate for the 21st year in a row.
With many area elementary schools well over 100 percent capacity, the seats will serve as a welcome relief, Quirk said.
In a phone interview Monday, Kamenetz said deciding to add new elementary seats was easy.
"We have an aging school inventory combined with rising enrollment, and it requires tremendous investment," Kamenetz said.
However, he did not specify whether those seats in Catonsville would be in one new school or spread throughout one or more additions to existing schools.
"We're going to continue to work with the school system to try and identify how those seats will be filled," Kamenetz said.
Quirk said the funding was a critical first step in the process to alleviate overcrowding in the area.
"The most critical part of that is that the funding is there," he said.
Catonsville resident Maureen Sweeney Smith is thrilled to hear about the new seats in the area.
Her 22-year-old son went to Hillcrest Elementary School, which currently has 815 students enrolled, 149 more than the 666 maximum capacity for the building listed on the Baltimore County Public Schools website.
"It was crowded back then when he was there and then they put the addition on. Now it's crowded again," she said.
"It's really good that we've getting these extra 500 seats," Sweeney Smith said.
The proposed budget also includes $880,000 to create walking trails at three parks, including Catonsville Community Park, at 501 N. Rolling Road behind Giant Food, and $3.4 million for the creation of a regional park at the Spring Grove Hospital Center.
As a co-founder and board member for Catonsville Rails to Trails, Sweeney Smith is happy to hear about the additional funding toward creating a more walkable community.
"We are thrilled to see other trails going in. That's fantastic," Sweeney Smith said.
"I think we can create a walking culture and with all the support we've gotten. It's wonderful," she said.
"I think Tom (Quirk) and Kevin (Kamenetz) really work hard to bring money where it's needed and they've done a stellar job," she said.
Kamenetz said the funding for the park was another easy choice.
"We know rec councils are always seeking more field space and we think these are great programs to support," Kamenetz said.