The Baltimore County Council passed the county’s fiscal year 2024 budget Thursday, with only one minor change to the “record investment” that Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. proposed last month.
The council voted Thursday morning to adopt the $4.9 billion budget suggested by Olszewski, but cut $500,000 from the school system’s budget for administrative positions. The new budget is about 1.8% more than last year’s budget of $4.8 billion, which Olszewski called “still a significant amount of money” at his budget address last month.
[ ‘Record investments’: Baltimore County executive unveils $4.9 billion budget proposal ]
During his Thursday budget message, Baltimore County Council Chair Julian Jones Jr., a Woodstock Democrat, said that while council members did not agree with everything Olszewski’s office suggested, they “generally [have] faith in the investments being made by the administration and the direction in which Baltimore County is headed,” leading to its decision to keep the county executive’s budget “essentially intact.”
Under the final council budget, Baltimore County Public Schools will receive around $2.3 billion, slightly less than what Olszewski suggested and the county Board of Education approved, but still more than half of the county’s total budget, and $2 million more than what was allotted last year, Jones said.
The public school system historically receives a bulk of the county’s funds, with about half of the total budget going towards Baltimore County Public Schools every year.
Some $206 million of the operating budget will go to school system projects, with $76 million for replacing Towson High; $73 million for elementary school maintenance throughout the county; $38.6 million for replacing or rehabilitating roofs at schools in Randallstown, Parkville, Loch Raven, Milford Mill, Windsor Mill and Rosedale; $5 million for the new Dulaney High; $5.8 million for an addition at Pine Grove Middle School; $4.6 million for additions, renovations and new school designs for high schools in southeastern Baltimore County, and $3 million for the preliminary design of a new technical school in the northwestern part of the county.
The final budget also will support a new program allowing free community college courses for county residents making $150,000 or less per year.
More money will go toward capital projects for parks, transportation and other public facilities, with over $350 million for the Department of Public Works and Transportation to make road, sidewalk and safety improvements and repair drains, sewers and bridges, Jones said.
Teachers and other county employees will receive 4% cost of living raises, and county retirees will receive a 1.25% bump. Water rates will increase 5%, though property tax rates will remain the same under the new budget, at $1.10 per $100 of assessed real property value.
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The income tax rate also will remain flat, at 3.2%. Olszewski last raised the income tax rate in 2019 to cover a budget deficit, provoking protests by county residents who hadn’t seen an income tax increase since 1992.
The public library system will receive an extra $3.5 million that it did last year, allowing it to raise salaries, add 13 positions and restart its Sunday service program at branches in Arbutus, Cockeysville, North Point, Owings Mills, Perry Hall, Pikesville and Towson.
The budget also allows for the Baltimore County Police Department to begin offering starting salaries of $66,000, up from $60,000, and for the department to buy another 100 cars for its take-home vehicle program.
“Thank you to my partners on the County Council for their advocacy and partnership as we continue to invest in a better Baltimore County,” Olszewski said in a statement. “This budget strengthens our new standards of excellence and reflects our values, making historic investments in Baltimore County’s people, communities and infrastructure.”
During budget deliberations last week, the council voted to cut $2 million from the budget that would support the 2025 BMW PGA tour tournament at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, then voted to restore the money after Councilman Mike Ertel, a Towson Democrat, said he was confused about what he was voting for and asked to redo the vote.
Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican, objected to the use of county funds on the tournament, arguing that it was “subsidizing rich people,” while Jones said the tournament generated revenue for the county by attracting tournament-goers who would then spend money in the county.
The budget will go into effect July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.