Split County Council passes $1.7 billion operating budget, increases taxes and fees
By Chase Cook
Jun 14, 2019 | 4:20 PM
Anne Arundel County resident taxes are officially going up after the County Council voted 4-3 Friday to approve County Executive Steuart Pittman’s $1.7 billion budget.
The core of Pittman’s fiscal year 2020 budget was largely unchanged as the council opted to adopt smaller reductions totaling $1.3 million. Those reductions were then used to increase firefighter staffing, add a limited English proficiency consultant and correct errors and omissions.
The County Council did not stray from the county executive’s proposed supplemental amendments. Almost all of the amendments, operating and capital budget were passed in 4-3 votes.
“This is a very important moment,” Pittman said. “Anne Arundel County was in danger of a real downward spiral in services had we not done this. Education and public safety would not have been able to catch up to the growth we had. Eventually we would have had to make this correction.”
The result is a $1.7 billion operating budget and about $333 million in capital expenses. And about $560 in increased taxes and fees for the average county resident. It’s a 6.7% increase over the current budget.
The budget includes more teachers, firefighters and police officers. It also includes and $4.5 million for a new county police helicopter. It also includes back pay increases for teachers.
The Anne Arundel County Public School system was a big winner in the budget with $733 million in direct county funding. That was an increase of about $46 million compared to the current budget.
“Our school system, our employees, and most importantly, our children, are in an extraordinarily better place today because of the work the county executive and County Council have done to address class size, social-emotional health, compensation, and facilities issues in this budget,” Schools Superintendent George Arlotto said in a statement. “Their collaborative efforts have resulted in an enormous investment in our collective future, and we will work extremely hard to ensure that investment pays great dividends. We could not be more grateful for their efforts.”
The council did not reduce the proposed tax rate increases from 90.2 cents per $100 assessed value to 93.5 cents. That increase was used to fund education improvements. State law allows the county to bypass revenue tax caps for education spending.
The income tax also increases from 2.5% to 2.81%. The administration is using this to fund general budget changes along with .1% points used to fund a new infrastructure fund for $250 million in capital projects.
Democrats supported the increases as fixing budget gaps that had not been corrected with economic growth. Republican members opposed increasing taxes to pay for those gaps and called for spreading the growth over several years.
These items, along with stormwater, sewer and other fees will increase county residents’ bills. Residents making $100,000 and owning a home with a $400,000 assessed value will pay about $560 more annually. That increase could be mitigated with tax credits depending on the household.
The most substantial change made to the operating budget was the addition of 15 firefighters totaling $413,900. These positions will be supported by county funds and a federal grant. The council also voted to add $165,000 to the budget for a limited English proficiency consultant. These increases were pulled from the $1.3 million the council cut in operating funds.
Capital budget changes included an additional $100,000 for the YWCA Domestic Violence Project, an additional $200,000 for the Chesapeake Arts Center and $600,000 for the Eisenhower Golf Course. The golf course increase is due to concerns the state won’t pay out the $600,000 from state funding.
Before casting their vote against the budget, Republicans expressed their frustration with the surviving tax increases and the scope of the budget. They didn’t oppose increases to teachers and public safety.
They said the county should have grown within its means and admonished Democrat council members for not pursuing more cuts.
“This budget is essentially unchanged from what the county executive proposed on May 1,” said Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold. “This budget is just simply too large.”
Democrats pledged their support to the budget, saying that it met a desire from county residents to increase funding for education, public safety and capital improvements of schools and roads. They also said the increased taxes still keep Anne Arundel among some of the lowest in the state. The income tax increase places Anne Arundel fourth lowest.The property tax increases places Anne Arundel as fifth lowest.
For years the county has been under funding itself, said council vice chairwoman Allison Pickard, D-Millersville.