Baltimore County Council approves $1.65 billion budget

The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved Thursday the spending plan proposed by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz for the coming fiscal year, a $1.65 billion operating budget that includes no furloughs, layoffs or tax increases.

The lean budget, which goes into effect in July, relies heavily on savings from retirements, attrition and reorganizations in county agencies. The county will have 7 percent fewer employees than in the previous year.

The council emphasized that local government would have less to work with as employees try to deliver the same level of services.

"The immediate goal of this government is to provide the essential services of public education and public safety, with fewer resources, but without any significant reduction in the level of services and without tax increases," Chairwoman Vicki Almond wrote in the council's official statement on its approval. "The budget we adopt today accomplishes that."

Almond has described the budget as "bare bones."

"We did the absolute best we could," the Reisterstown Democrat said after the meeting Thursday. "We have a well-managed county, and we will continue to do that."

More than 300 county employees participated in an early-retirement program this year. The departures will save about $19.5 million in salaries, according to the county auditor.

Kamenetz, a Democrat, recommended the budget in April, and it keeps spending essentially flat from the previous year. It uses about $40.6 million in surplus funds from previous years.

Nearly 44 percent of the general fund budget goes to the county school system. Under the plan, a dozen schools will get air conditioning. The county will spend $15.8 million on its first installment covering the transfer of teacher pension costs from the state to local governments.

Councilman Todd Huff, one of two Republicans on the council, said he was pleased with the plan, calling Baltimore County "fiscally sound."

"The county executive has tightened the belt and shrunk the government," the Lutherville councilman said. "I like the direction the county's heading in."

The council made one cut last week to the county executive's budget. Members removed about $208,000 from the Department of Public Works' allowance to buy fuel for dump trucks. The county auditor had found that the administration had overestimated the cost of fuel.

Under the county charter, council members cannot add spending to the budget; they can only cut spending.

Councilman Tom Quirk, a Catonsville Democrat, called the budget fiscally responsible but said the county would continue to have tough decisions as the economy recovers.

"Fortunately, Baltimore County hasn't kicked the can down the road as much as the federal or state government," he said.

By the numbers

Highlights of the Baltimore County budget:

Total planned spending: $1.65 billion

Cost of teacher pensions (formerly covered by state): $15.8 million

Share for public schools: 44 percent

Reduction in county workforce: 7 percent

Number of layoffs, furloughs: 0

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