When Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski came to Timonium to hear what residents want in next year’s county budget, local Councilman Wade Kach handed him a long list, literally — 15 pages of requests from constituents, taped together.
“And I expect we’re going to get what’s on that list — everything,” Kach quipped at the end of the town hall meeting at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium, which more than 200 people attended.
The unwieldy piece of paper held a preview of the issues residents in District 3, the county’s northernmost district stretching from Lutherville-Timonium to the Pennsylvania border, care about. The top issue was as it has been in other districts: schools.
“There is no greater investment than in the education of our children,” said Nancy Dimitriades, a former Baltimore County Public Schools teacher and parent of children in the system.
The town hall was one of seven being held across the county in each council district to collect public input at the start of the budget process for fiscal year 2020.
Many people testified at the meeting in support of spending more money on schools and teachers, and raising taxes or imposing developer impact fees in order to pay for it. The district is home to Dulaney High School, which has an aging building advocates say is dilapidated and needs to be replaced.
Olszewski did not mince words in explaining the county’s budgetary constraints. The preceding Kevin Kamenetz administration, he said, famously spent $1.3 billion on the Schools for our Future program, he said, “but there was never any real plan to pay for it.”
With many more needs and a projected budgetary deficit, Olszewski told the crowd he does not yet know the solution. Some speakers, however, were more certain.
“Councilman Kach, please vote to raise taxes to pay for schools,” implored Yara Cheikh, an advocate for a new Dulaney High School and the president of the Ridgely Middle School PTA. She begged leaders to raise taxes this year for FY20. “We are not in a position where people can wait any longer,” she said.
Diana Williams, of Cockeysville, said two of her children are graduates of Dulaney and a third attends the school now. She worries that teachers “worth their weight in gold” asked to work in a decrepit building will leave.
“They teach in conditions I cannot imagine having to walk into every single day — and they give our children everything,” Williams said.
“I am urging you to find the money to pay our teachers and find the money to fund our schools,” said Marie Heath, of Parkton. “Our children are our legacy, and they are also our future.”
Kach, a Republican, pushed back against residents who noted that the county has not raised taxes in decades, saying while the rate has stayed the same, it is based on property values, which have risen.
Kach also resisted calls for developer impact fees, saying he is worried that the County Council might strike a deal with homebuilders to implement fees in exchange for moving the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, making it easier to build in currently rural areas. Residents pushed back, saying just because a deal was offered does not mean the county has to take it.
“What does it say about the county that we’re already in negotiations with homebuilders to compromise?” Cheikh asked. “We’re the citizens.”