Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.’s administration is requesting a total of $10.7 million in supplemental funding to help get through the current fiscal year that ends June 30. And county leaders say the budget crunch will get worse next year, as the county spends millions in response to the new coronavirus pandemic.
Olszewski is asking Baltimore County Council to tap into the county’s $17.6 million surplus fund, or the county’s $207.2 million “Rainy Day Fund,” to cover expenses for several local agencies, including the police, fire and health departments. The council is scheduled to discuss the proposals at Tuesday’s afternoon work session.
Olszewski is scheduled to present his administration’s 2021 budget proposal to the council at at 10 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Councilmen Tom Quirk and David Marks told The Baltimore Sun the council will most likely pass the five bills requested by the Democratic county executive.
Marks, a Perry Hall Republican, said the county probably won’t have to pull a lot out of its rainy day fund to fulfill Olszewski’s request. The budget for Baltimore County’s snow removal operations, for instance, wasn’t used up this year, and, Marks added, the county received more income tax revenue than expected.
Olszewski’s administration wants to provide up to $6.5 million in additional funding to the County Police Department to cover “unanticipated budget shortfalls,” including $2.3 million in pandemic response expenses and $1.1 million for the county’s police back pay settlement, county fiscal notes show. The department will be providing essential duty pay — an extra $200 per pay period for up to five periods — to most of its staff, as well as cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment on an on-going basis.
The police back pay settlement, county fiscal notes show, was underfunded in this year’s budget because the complete terms of the agreement had not been finalized when the budget was formed. This resulted in “a built-in deficit” of $800,000. The police also need additional funds to cover pay increases for police department commanders and rank-and-file officers, overtime and more.
Olszewski also wants to give $2.2 million to the fire department to cover “higher than anticipated salary expenses” because turnover was lower than budgeted, fiscal notes show. The county was expecting 14 vacancies in the department this year, and officials also assumed the department would have an additional 45 vacancies due to retirements.
The County Health Department is also seeking $1.5 million to cover a mix of “higher than anticipated” salary and contractual services costs, as well as overtime related to the pandemic. The bulk of the funds would cover salary expenses caused in part by “lower than anticipated turnover,” while some would pay for pandemic-related overtime.
Olszewski’s administration also wants to give $325,000 to the County Board of Elections to cover unanticipated costs associated with the special primary election to fill the 7th Congressional District vacancy created by U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings’ death. Maryland postponed its April 28 primary to June 2 and shifted the special Baltimore-area congressional election to mail-in ballots only due to the pandemic, though Monday the state elections board reversed itself, deciding to offer at least one in-person site in each voting municipality.
The elections board, fiscal notes show, told the county the board will charge any additional costs related to the pandemic to federal or state grant programs.
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Olszewski’s administration also is seeking $200,000 for the county’s Department of Planning to broaden promotional efforts educating county residents on why they should participate in the Census 2020. The additional funds will be used to send promotional Census participation messages to cell phones instead of advertising at malls and movie theaters amid social distancing restrictions, fiscal notes show.
Maryland’s confirmed number of coronavirus cases is nearing 9,000 and the state’s cumulative death toll from the pandemic is at least 262.
Councilman Quirk, an Oella Democrat, said he strongly supports the county executive’s proposals. The police, fire and health departments are “incredibly essential,” said Quirk, adding the supplemental funding is “definitely needed.” Marks said his constituents expect the county “to do whatever we can to safeguard the public right now.”
Meanwhile, state legislative analysts said last week that Baltimore County is set to receive $144.4 million in direct allocations of federal assistance under the stimulus legislation passed by Congress in response to the pandemic. Baltimore County schools would receive $23.8 million.
Olszewski has said his administration projects the county’s local revenues will drop by “tens of millions of dollars” next year as businesses suspend operations and furlough or lay off workers during the pandemic. Adding to the problem, Olszewski said, expenses directly tied to COVID-19 also will amount to “tens of millions” of dollars.
“The concern is next fiscal year, but I think for the current fiscal year, which ends in July, we’re in better shape than we might have been otherwise,” Marks said. “I think residents should expect some very tough choices for the next budget.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.