Anne Arundel County Council adds more mental health positions to school budget, cuts textbook funding

ccook@capgaznews.com

The Anne Arundel County Council voted unanimously to shift about $1.4 million in the proposed fiscal year 2020 county operating budget to fund school counselors, music teachers, psychologists, personnel workers and an internal Board of Education audit.

The council balanced that increase by reducing funding for textbooks and source books by the same figure — $1.4 million. School officials opposed the change because it ate into their ability to buy new books and replace others.

Councilwoman Lisa Brannigan Rodvien, D-Annapolis, led the discussion on the amendment. Before the vote she disclosed she is a part-time music teacher with Anne Arundel County Public Schools.

“I brought forth a lot of pieces of this amendment based on conversations with the community,” Rodvien said before the vote. “(There is a) very serious need to increase the mental health needs of our students.”

The council’s votes Monday left County Executive Steuart Pittman’s budget largely intact. This frustrated Republican lawmakers who were trying to reduce proposed tax rate increases.

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The school funding amendment funds four school counselors, two school psychologists, two pupil personnel workers and three music teachers. It also includes $306,000 in funding for an internal audit of the Board of Education.

With the funding approved, the Board of Education will now decide the scope of the audit. Textbook reductions means the amendment is neutral and doesn’t add or reduce the total county operating budget.

The council also made $1.3 million in operating budget cuts. These cuts were split across county departments and were recommended by the auditor and agreed to by the council and Pittman’s administration.

Republican lawmakers put up a fight Monday but failed to make broad reductions to the overall county budget. All of their proposed amendments were defeated in 4-3 party line votes.

Those amendments included a reduction by .45% points of cost-of-living increases to county employees along with reductions to new county employee positions.

In total it would have reduced the operating budget by about $20 million, said Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater.

“It is clear we faced an uphill battle,” said Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, R-Arnold.

Republicans were hoping to reduce the budget and use those savings to reduce Pittman’s proposed tax increases. The fiscal 2020 budget includes a property tax rate increase from 90.2 cents per $100 of assessed value to 93.5 cents. It also includes an income tax increase from 2.5% to 2.81%.

All three council Republicans expressed frustration with the votes, saying they felt the council was a “rubber stamp” on the county executive’s budget.

“This budget is likely to pass with the rates unaltered,” said Councilman Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena. “This process occurred without our input on the front end.”

Council chair Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, said he felt like everyone was given an opportunity to review and make recommended changes to the budget. He gave each council member an opportunity to explain their amendments and votes.

The results were due to a “difference of philosophy,” Pruski said.

With council amendments finished, the next step is considering Pittman’s supplemental budget requests and casting final votes on the budget. The supplemental amendments will mostly pull from the $1.3 million in operating fund cuts made by the council.

The supplemental amendments will be available on the county’s website, aacounty.org.

The County Council will meet at 9 a.m. Friday to vote on the supplemental amendments and cast final budget votes.

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