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Carroll County Times

County Execute Kamenetz continues to improve county

Depending on your age and family situation, your attitude toward Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz's 2014 budget could vary greatly.

If you are a young adult with children, you can't help but like Kamenetz's emphasis on new school construction in the Owings Mills area.

If you are a more mature adult living in Reisterstown or Randallstown, the biggest plus in the budget is no new taxes.

But if you're a senior citizen, you may find Kamenetz's approach too cautious, with no initiatives that will make life for seniors more convenient or accessible.

Overall, the county's $1.75 billion budget and $175 million constructions programs are conservatively managed with modest increases. The property tax rate stays the same for the 26th year in a row and the county income tax doesn't budge for the 22nd year in a row.

At some point those streaks will end, but not this year. There will come a time when political leaders feel the urgency to move the county in a bold direction, such as bus circulator routes to serve workers in big employment centers or a boost in senior and affordable housing.

Baltimore County continues to chart a cautious path.

It is one of just 38 counties with a AAA bond rating from all three major Wall Street agencies. It pays cash for many construction projects. It is setting aside extra funds to safeguard its pension program. It has cut payroll through technology upgrades and agency streamlining.

Today the county's workforce is smaller than it was 27 years ago.

Though the county has grown by 18,000 residents since 2010, there's been no diminution of public services. Job growth in Baltimore County has kept pace, too. Unemployment dropped from eight percent during the Great Recession to 5.9 percent last December. That's lower than both the national and state unemployment rates.

The top priority in Kamenentz's budget is schools. This includes $4 million to finish wiring classrooms for internet connection; $3.8 million for digital instructional material; $2.5 million for a safety ID system, $1.2 million to start up a new elementary school in Owings Mills and $171,000 for a small expansion of pre-kindergarten programs for deprived kids.

In the northwestern part of the county, the four-year plan calls for a 700-seat elementary school in Owings Mills New Town, an elementary school to relieve overcrowding in Sudbrook and Summit Park, new construction to relieve overcrowding in Randallwood and Stoneybrook and adding 475 seats to end overcrowding in Reisterstown and Cedarmere.

By the time Kamenentz steps down in 2018, the county's overcrowding will be a thing of the past. In fact, there will be a surplus of 5,800 seats in the schools for future growth. Every elementary and middle school will be air-conditioned, too.

Kamenentz has steered Baltimore County in a modestly progressive direction during some tough economic times. Now the county is in solid financial shape and able to address some overdue needs in its public schools.

Barry Rascovar can be reached at brascovar@hotmail.com.


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