Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman proposed a $1.5 billion operating budget Monday for fiscal year 2017, a 2.6 percent increase over last year.
The budget gives the school system $562.2 million, $50.4 million less than the $612.6 million the Board of Education requested from the county but $7.2 million above the minimum amount the county is required to fund by state law. Compared to last year, the school system could receive $18.1 million more than last year, allowing the county to meet requests for special education funding, negotiated teacher salary increases and 56 new teacher positions to match enrollment growth, Kittleman said.
Roughly half a million for a new nonprofit center will avoid "service silos" by housing human service organizations under one roof, Kittleman said. The county also plans to shuffle $166,880 out of community service partnership grants to the Department of Community Resources and Services in order to secure permanent fundings for key organizations, which otherwise are subject to a yearly grant review.
Under the proposed budget, Howard Community College funding will increase 4 percent over last year, or roughly $1.2 million, including costs for a new science, engineering and technology building. The library system funding increased by 3.7 percent over last year, coupled with a 3.5 percent increase from the state.
In order to address "a backlog of projects," Kittleman said $2 million from "unexpected savings" will be used for road resurfacing projects along with $3 million in the proposal capital budget. The county also plans to begin the process of replacing 11 buses through the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland in response to "numerous complaints from riders" about the "aging fleet," Kittleman said.
Kittleman has also earmarked $1.2 million for a new snow tracker to replace an outdated system he said has not worked properly for several years. The county took down the tracker during a blizzard this year after it stopped functioning.
In other highlights, Kittleman proposes $40,000 for an agriculture innovation center to bring new technologies to farmers, $150,000 for an economic development investment fund that provides capital for companies with "promising" technologies and one-time funding for an overhaul of the Economic Development Authority's marketing campaign.
The proposal also includes funding for a new veterans memorial, a program that repairs homes of low-income homeowners for free and $2 million for rehabilitation loans to renovate or improve aging housing.
Kittleman's capital budget proposal totals $315.7 million, reduces spending by roughly 8 percent and includes slight increases in funding for the school system. Kittleman's operating budget does not propose any tax increases, furloughs or layoffs.
The operating budget proposal also includes $3 million for Other Post Employment Benefits, which includes benefits that kick in after retirement. Beginning in July, all full-time employees will earn at least $30,000 in wages and dispatchers and correctional officers will see increases in entry-level pay. Kittleman said he also hopes to increase salaries of employees at the bottom of the pay scale whose compensation "has been historically low."
Expanding last year's budgetary focus on mental health initiatives, Kittleman included $312,500 for the renovation of Howard County General Hospital's emergency department. Under the proposal, a pilot program to investigate body cameras for police will also begin this fiscal year.