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County executive outlines priorities for state funding

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz poses for a photo in his office in Towson.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz poses for a photo in his office in Towson.(Jen Rynda / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said he will ask the state Maryland Interagency Committee on School Construction, which administers the state's Public School Construction Program, to provide the county $74 million over three years instead of five, to accelerate the completion of $166 million worth of air conditioning and other projects in 36 public schools by 2019.

The county is proposing to match every dollar of the $74 million with two dollars of county money, or $91 million, according to Kamenetz and his chief of staff, Donald Mohler III.

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"We think it's affordable," Mohler said.

Kamentz would spend the money to add air conditioning to county schools that do not now have it.

Fiscal 2017 funding would be for Baltimore Highlands, Bear Creek, Chapel Hill, Edmondson Heights, Grange, Kingsville, Oakleigh and Pot Springs elementary schools and Franklin Middle School.

Baltimore County Councilman David Marks hands out his annual Fifth District Citizens of the Year awards, including to longtime county Family Crisis Center and Christ Church Society volunteer Jo Marvan. It's been a good year for British native Marvan, who became U.S. citizen this past August.

Fiscal 2018 funding would be for Dundalk Elementary School, Arbutus, Golden Ring, Middle River and Southwest Academy middle schools, and Franklin and Kenwood high schools.

Fiscal 2019 funding would be for Battle Grove, Bedford, Berkshire, Charlesmont, Church Lane, Colgate, Orems and Reisterstown elementary schools, and Stemmers Run Middle School. All of those schools also would receive funding for renovations or replacement.

The county has programmed money for air conditioning in all 36 schools, but would need accelerated funding to complete the projects by 2019. The county's fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30. The county currently is in its 2016 fiscal year.

Kamenetz said other state funding priorities for the county as the Maryland legislature convenes this week include eliminating school overcrowding and creating a surplus of 6,000 elementary school seats through construction and renovation countywide by 2021, as well as improving public safety and wi-fi technology in schools. He did not say how much in state funding he is seeking for that initiative, which spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said would be part of the county's ongoing, $1.3 billion Schools for our Future program to reduce rising enrollment and modernize schools, 80 percent of which are more than 40 years old.

The county in fiscal 2016 is allocating nearly $1 million dollars in startup costs for the new Lyons Mill Elementary School, in Owings Mills, which officials say would alleviate overcrowding at New Town and Woodholme elementary schools. The county also is allocating about $30 million to finish funding new Catonsville, Westowne and Relay elementary schools, and $700,000 for an addition to Westchester Elementary School.

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Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz responded criticism from the governor and state comptroller by calling a press conference in Towson to defend his efforts to build and renovate schools – including adding air conditioning.

The 2015 budget included design funds for the new Lansdowne and Victory Villa elementary schools, with construction scheduled to begin in 2017, and $4 million to finish the renovation of Pikesville High School.

Kamenetz said he is seeking $65 million in transportation and road work requests for state highways, including funding to build interchanges at Dolfield Boulevard in Owings Mills, a project in which the county has already invested $6 million, and at I-695 and Exit 44 (Broening Highway), to promote the redevelopment of Sparrows Point.

Kamenetz also is seeking additional state funding to help replace the Eastern Family Resource Center, a homeless and transitional housing shelter at Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center. The state has provided some but not all of the $5 million it has committed to that project, he said.

Ground was broken on a new $24 million center in October 2015. The 80,000 square-foot, three-floor facility will replace the outdated Eastern Family Resource Center on the campus of Medstar Franklin Square Medical Center. The new building is anticipated to open in the spring of 2017.

Kamenetz said he is not concerned that state legislators would be less likely to think that the county needs funding because of his recent decision to decline reimbursement from Baltimore City of $257,000 in county expenses for riot-related assistance the county provided to the city last spring.

With more than $1 billion in private investment in Towson's redevelopment since 2009 -- which includes 2,700 completed and proposed townhomes and apartments -- many are looking for the funding necessary to provide more open space in Towson to accommodate that growth.

"This is money we took out of our [county] budget" for police overtime, he said. "I don't need to take money out of my neighbor's piggy bank, especially when Baltimore City asked us for help. We came with a helping hand, not a bill in our hand."

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