In what the Howard County Council deemed "one of the smoothest" budget approval processes in the last decade, the five County Council members unanimously voted on Wednesday to adopt a $1.1 billion operating budget for fiscal 2018.
The approved budget includes $572 million for the school system, $54 million less than the school board's request.
Despite entering its third year of "not fully funding" the Board of Education's budget request, according to District 4 Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty this year's "modest increase in revenue" allowed the council to appropriate more funding in other areas. With state aid, the total school general fund budget reaches is $819 million.
"I think the budget puts us in good shape for next year," Sigaty said.
After discussions with interim schools superintendent Michael Martirano and the County Council, Kittleman submitted proposals to increase funding to the school system and the school system's general fund as well as the Office of Transportation.
The approved proposal stated that the transportation office receive $250,000, in addition to the $750,000 previously requested, to install concrete pads at more bus stops and improve current bus shelters. The 60 concrete pads will cover grass or dirt in those areas, while shelter improvements include painting, panel replacement, bench repairs, access improvements, signs and trash cans.
An increase was also approved for the school system's systemic renovation project and reallocation to speed up the replacement of Talbott Springs Elementary School with a new facility rather than renovations. In fiscal 2018, the school system will have $65.3 million for capital improvements projects, including $6.2 million for systemic renovations and $1 million transferred from the new High School 13 to Talbott Springs Elementary replacement.
After the school system reduced the estimated cost for the new high school, the County Council determined that the $1 million will be used to plan and design the Talbott Springs Elementary replacement.
Within the school system's general fund, an increase of more than $627,000 was included, with $270,470 to avoid furloughs as well as a one-time-only contribution of $356,650 for the separation agreement between former schools superintendent Renee Foose and the Board of Education. Funding will also contribute to negotiated salary increases; 87 para-educators; the new director of diversity, equity and inclusion position and full funding for special education.
Council Vice Chairman Calvin Ball, representing District 2, said he was pleased to invest money into improving the county's bus stops; however, he was disappointed in the lack of funding toward the bike master plan. For bicycle infrastructure improvements, the budget allotted $600,000, with plans for the county to complete nearly half of the 50-mile-long Bikeway within the next year.
"We all believe that people who have to use our transportation system shouldn't have to do it in an unsafe environment," Ball said. "I think that we need to do better. We may not be doing all that we can to invest in the lives of others for a better quality of life."