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Baltimore County schedules virtual town halls to discuss budget

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. will continue a series of town hall meetings seeking input on next year’s county budget, this time in an online setting.

Seven meetings, one for each district, are scheduled from mid-February through mid-March as the county prepares its fiscal 2022 budget in the throes of a pandemic that has upended local economies.

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The Baltimore County Council reduced spending by more than $127 million in its fiscal 2021 budget, bracing for pandemic-related revenue losses.

But some county losses were not as steep as expected in the budget year that ended June 30, which auditors attribute to the success of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act which provided “unprecedented levels” of aid to the unemployed and businesses, according to a recent report from the county auditor’s office.

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The county collected $127.8 million more in income tax revenue in the budget year that ended June 30 than it did the previous year, totaling $862.7 million. Property tax revenue increased by $32.9 million over fiscal 2019 because of an increase in the taxable value of county properties, Lauren Smelkinson, county auditor, wrote in the report.

County auditors expect revenues to decrease by $51.8 million for the current budget year, or by 2.3%, compared to fiscal 2020, according to the report.

Still, Smelkinson wrote, “we continue to err on the side of caution due to the still-uncertain fiscal and economic environment.”

The is Olszewski’s third series of budget town halls. Last year, closures due to the coronavirus interrupted the meetings, and some were held online instead.

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“We remain committed to keeping Baltimore County’s government open, accessible and transparent” despite the pandemic, Olszewski said in a statement.

Local and state government agencies have relied heavily on virtual meetings and hearings during the pandemic — that’s raised questions of equity as thousands in Baltimore County and an estimated 324,000 across the state lack access to high-speed internet.

“Everyone understands we have to be flexible during this period,” said Teresa Moore, president of the Valleys Planning Council, a resource conservation nonprofit focused on the northwestern county. “But it has been a disadvantage” when “we’re sort of forced to do things virtually [while] a good portion of our county doesn’t have access to those virtual meetings.”

Residents can dial in to the budget meetings, but Moore said not having the ability to see what’s happening can put participants at a disadvantage.

It’ just “another example of the problem of not having adequate broadband,” she said.

Residents can submit their ideas and priorities for Baltimore County’s fiscal 2022 budget in advance by emailing townhall@baltimorecountymd.gov.

The meetings will be streamed online on Baltimore County’s YouTube and Facebook page or can be joined by phone. An online tool is available for those who don’t know their councilmanic district:

1st District: Thursday, March 11, 6:30 p.m. with Councilman Tom Quirk

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code: 180 385 0425

2nd District: Monday, March 8, 6:30 p.m. with Councilman Izzy Patoka

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code: 180 686 0349

3rd District: Thursday, March 18, 6:30 p.m. with Councilman Wade Kach

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code: 180 202 5808

4th District: Thursday, Feb. 18, 6:30 p.m. with Council Chair Julian Jones

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code: 180 227 7499

5th District: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 6:30 p.m. with Councilman David Marks

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code:180 011 0703

6th District: Tuesday, March 2, 6:30 p.m. with Councilwoman Cathy Bevins

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code: 180 025 4055

7th District: Tuesday, March 16, 6 p.m. with Councilman Todd Crandell

Call in: 1-415-655-0001; Access code: 180 815 9310

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