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Report says Baltimore County budget process discourages accountability

Baltimore County’s budget process “lacks transparency, stifles innovation, and discourages accountability,” concludes a new report by a county commission.

The Commission on Fiscal Sustainability issued preliminary recommendations Friday. The group, created by County Executive Johnny Olszewksi Jr. to study budgetary issues, says the county should take a more open approach and increase the accessibility of information.

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“Baltimore County’s budget process is highly centralized and has traditionally vested disproportionate power in the hands of the County’s administrative officer and a small staff in the budget office,” the commission’s report states.

Johnny Olszewski Jr. delivered an upbeat message on the campaign trail, promising a fresh approach to governing as Baltimore County executive. Now in office and facing a budget shortfall, he is traveling around the county telling a more sobering story.

While not specifically recommending it, the report hints at possible consideration of a tax increase, saying the panel “strongly recommends ... that the administration recognize its current limits with regard to revenue capacity under the current tax rates and fee structures.”

The commission plans “a more detailed review of the County’s revenue structure and potential for revenue enhancements in the future,” the report states.

It also says county government should strengthen guidelines for long-term obligations such as retiree health care costs.

The county faces a projected $81 million shortfall. The commission’s final recommendations are due May 15, a month after Olszewski must deliver his budget proposal to the County Council.

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