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With budget hearings over, Pittman administration begins final budget talks

With budget hearings over, Pittman administration begins final budget talks
County Executive Steuart Pittman gives remarks at a budget town hall meeting Wednesday alongside former councilman Chris Trumbauer and County Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater. The town hall was the first of seven meetings Pittman held throughout the county. (Chase Cook / Capital Gazette)

Anne Arundel County residents want the county to invest more money in local libraries, funding for teachers, build a Pickleball facility, raise taxes, not raise taxes, hire more public safety officers, keep things the same and much more.

Hundreds of county residents joined County Executive Steuart Pittman and County Council members for his seven budget hearings spread across the county councilmanic districts between Feb. 27 and March 28. At each meeting Pittman sat on stage with the council member for the district and turned over the microphones to the residents. The last meeting was held Thursday at Annapolis High School with 263 people in attendance.

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It isn’t possible to fund all of these requests — and Pittman hasn’t committed to anything yet — but the meetings were so successful the county executive plans to do them again next budget cycle.

“It really does matter to hear from residents on some of these issues that are ‘maybes’,” Pittman said. “There are lot of maybe in the budgets, things we have to make decisions on that we have not made decisions on.”

Anne Arundel County is expected to have about $10 million in additional revenue after considering growth and mandatory spending. Revenues are down slightly, and Pittman has been open to any way to raise county revenues. This includes looking at incomes taxes, developer impact fees and higher property taxes to pay for education funding. Like funding choices, Pittman said he also has not committed to any revenue changes.

Resident requests at the budget hearings included a variety of wants and desires. There were organized efforts by library workers and customers requesting the county keep Discoveries: The Library at the Mall. Discoveries was opened as a temporary location within the Annapolis mall while the county redeveloped the old Annapolis library site. But the space has grown to be so loved that mall officials are offering an expanded location within the building.

Others want the county to invest in a place to play Pickleball, a fast growing paddle sport that mixes tennis and badminton. Residents wielding paddles waved them in the air Thursday while advocating for the new facility at the Annapolis High School budget town hall.

Recreational needs were a big request as well with residents asking the county to improve access to fields and courts.

“We have clear demand for more recreational facilities,” said Philip Dales, Annapolis attorney and avid tennis player. “I have seen the facilities of tennis reduced.”

The county’s online web tool has been popular with more than 100 comments submitted through the website. Those comments included requests to limit tax increases. The budget tool allowed residents to add items to the budget to see the costs of new police officers or teachers.

“As a Republican I supported you, but I do not want you to increase the tax cap,” one person wrote. “That was put on to eliminate tax increases. I do not want any tax increases, Do not be a true democrat and raise taxes the first year in office. If you want the Republican support do not do what the Democrats always do.”

But another thought raising taxes may not be a bad thing.

“I don't really mind small increases in property and income taxes,” according to a comment. “I would also like to see impact fees on developers increased a great deal. Northern Anne Arundel has seen explosive growth in just the past few years. This has resulted in fewer green spaces and increased traffic.”

Councilwoman Lisa Brannigan-Rodvien, D-Annapolis, said the District 6 budget hearing alerted her to local issues she wasn’t aware of — such as the need for a Pickleball site — but the event also calcified her position that the county should focus core needs like the library and public safety.

“We have to start with the basics,” Rodvien said. “We have to have stronger police and fire.”

Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold, said she too thought the county could focus on core issues like education and public safety. She said the meetings also helped residents better understand the budget during the opening comments by Pittman and the council member. Those opening comments included a short breakdown on the budget and the sources of county revenue.

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“I don’t think the general population understands how the county budget works and how many pots we have to put it in and make the hard decisions,” Fiedler said. “ Folks don’t really understand and need to understand how the budget works.”

With the budget hearings over, Pittman’s administration is now in the final stretch of budget crafting before it is released to the County Council and public on May 1. Then the council will hold public meetings on the budget before making changes and approving it.

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