Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman’s first budget includes more police officers and firefighters, a new police helicopter, $46 million additional funding for education and increased income and property taxes that could cost average county taxpayers about $442 a year.
Pittman revealed the $1.7 billion fiscal year 2020 proposal Wednesday during his first budget address. The previous budget totaled about $1.6 billion.
Pittman pitched the budget as righting the ship, restoring funds lost to political decisions to bolster education and public safety funding.
Republican council members viewed the budget as a big tax increase foretelling continued government growth. Democratic council members were supportive but wanted to look at more budget details.
“I won’t venture to predict how my friends on the council will receive this budget, but I hope you agree with me that it strikes the right balance,” Pittman said during his speech. “It’s in your hands now. If you oppose the increased revenue, offer some cuts. If you can find some savings, take it. If you want something added, fight for it. If we made a mistake, fix it.”
Those revenues will come from an increase to both the property and income taxes. Pittman has proposed raising the income tax from 2.5% to 2.81% and property taxes from 90.2 cents to 93.5 cents per $100 assessed value. Part of the income tax increase — .1% — will funnel into a new public infrastructure fund.
Money from the increased property taxes can only be spent on education since the county has a self-imposed tax cap, according to state law. That cap recommends a rate of 90.1 cents per $100 assessed value.
If approved as is, a homeowner with a $400,000 home will see an increase of about $132 in their property tax bill. A family making $100,000 — the county median household income — will pay an additional $310 a year.
Last year former County Executive Steve Schuh and the County Council agreed to reduce the county rate from the cap-recommended rate of 90.4 cents to 90.2, saving about $8 a year.
These items will be major sticking points for the three Republican members of the Anne Arundel County Council. State law allows bypassing the tax cap for education spending, but Republican lawmakers were hesitant when the idea was floated a few months ago.
Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, called Pittman’s tax increases “significant” and wanted more details about the proposals.
Pittman called the public safety hires a multi-year plan, meaning it is possible the county sees these types of tax increases in upcoming years, Haire said.
“It raises more questions than answers,” Haire said.
With the budget revealed, the Anne Arundel County Council will now begin budget hearings. The first was held Wednesday after Pittman’s budget message with the second scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday. The council has 45 days to pass a balanced budget.
Education makes up about half of the county’s budget and will receive the largest increase with a proposed $46.1 million increase. An additional $13.5 million in funding is coming from a state education funding plan passed during the 2019 Maryland General Assembly. That bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.
The budget proposal includes 136 new classroom teachers, 14 school counselors, 12 mental health positions, increased substitute teacher pay and back pay raises for teachers that missed them in fiscal 2010 and 2011.
Education is where the County Council has more freedom to make changes. The council is empowered to cut the county executive’s proposal but can only add items requested by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education.
Council chairman Andrew Pruski said he was “excited” the county executive put a focus on education. As for the tax increases, Pruski said the county has to prepare for future education spending requirements imposed by the state and he plans to review those decisions closely.
“We are going to dig deep into the weeds,” Pruski said.
The Anne Arundel County Fire Department will add 35 new firefighters funded by a federal grant, three new fire communication operators and one senior management assistant.
The police department will receive fewer hires with 10 new police officers, one new chemist, a management aide and custodial workers. Pittman has approved a request for a new helicopter after learning the county’s current one needs extended maintenance. The old helicopter will be sold to defray the cost of a new one.
Detention officers are getting some attention as well with the opening of the new central holding and booking facility. The county is proposing sending 24 booking officers from the police department along with hiring nine new detention officers and four new sergeants.
Pittman said public safety staffing is a multi-year plan and the county plans to keep the firefighters after the federal grant ends.
Environment and health
The budget proposal includes seven new planning and zoning hires to improve the county’s environmental and long-term planning positions.
Pittman also has proposed four new environmental control inspectors. These inspectors would travel around the county to review construction sites for stormwater and other environmental regulations.
These new positions are restoring planners that were lost in previous budget cuts, Pittman said.