As capacity issues crop up at schools all across Baltimore County, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced Monday that the county budget for fiscal year 2014 will fund more than 3,000 new seats in county elementary schools.
A county contribution of $149 million to school construction, plus an anticipated $51 million in state contributions for that cause, highlight a $2.8 billion operating budget and $339 million capital budget that calls for no property or income tax increases for county residents.
The budget fully funds the planned 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel, plus funding for a second 700-seat elementary school in the York Road corridor to accommodate the overcrowding at schools from Towson to Sparks.
Though the Mays Chapel school has been challenged in the courts by nearby residents who want the property to remain a park, Kamenetz said the county is "past dealing with just Mays Chapel."
"We have the need not only to proceed with Mays Chapel, but that doesn't solve our problem," Kamenetz said. "This is part of the dialogue some people don't understand. Obviously, if we had other alternatives to building Mays Chapel at that site, we would do so, but it's compounded by the fact that even building the 700 seats at Mays Chapel isn't enough."
With the planned projects, plus a 200-seat addition at Stoneleigh Elementary and 300-seat addition at Hampton Elementary scheduled to be completed this summer, Kamenetz will have funded a total of 1,700 elementary school seats in the York Road corridor.
Cathi Forbes, a school advocate with Towson Families United, said the additional seats are much needed, even with the work already done.
"Hampton will open overcrowded next year, Stoneleigh will open overcrowded next year, and West Towson will be more overcrowded next year, so we do need more seats in the central corridor and Towson," Forbes said. "It'll be interesting to see where those 700 seats end up."
Additionally, Kamenetz announced funding for a $27.5 million renovation of Dumbarton Middle School, which includes air conditioning.
"Dumbarton Middle school is a significant capital project, and I'm glad it will be included in the budget," Councilman David Marks said. "Schools are the top priority for people in Towson, and I suspect there will be many parents, teachers and students delighted to hear this news."
Other school air conditioning projects will be announced when the state distributes money from a dedicated fund Governor Martin O'Malley created earlier this year.
Other capital projects in central Baltimore County include a $2.8 million community center at Padonia International Elementary School in Cockeysville, a $215 million playground at Robert E. Lee Park, and funds for a new roof at Cromwell Valley Elementary.
Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said he was pleased with the investments in Towson's schools, both in infrastructure and technology.
He also lauded the county government's ability to fund projects without raising taxes.
"I think it's amazing to be able to at least maintain the level of service without at least raising the taxes when the money from state and federal sources is drying up," Hartman said.
Kamenetz noted that many of the capital projects and additional funding to county departments, such as an additional $7 million to the police department, an additional $1 million to the $21 million technology budget, and $8 million more dollars towards paving roads, are possible because of widespread cutbacks in county government.
County officials said the county's general government workforce is at a 25-year low thanks to an early-retirement incentive offered in 2011 and measures to use technology to improve efficiency in county government.
That "solid fiscal management" Kamenetz said has been in place in Baltimore County for decades "now allows us to find creative ways to accomplish a lot of new goals today without raising the tax rates," he said.