The Howard County Council approved a nearly $1.906 billion operating and capital budget Wednesday for the coming fiscal year, including adding $2 million to County Executive Calvin Ball’s proposed funding for the school system.
Approximately $206.3 million went to the capital budget, which funds projects like roads and the plan to reduce future flooding in historic Ellicott City. An estimated $1.2 billion from the general fund goes to the operating budget, which funds police, schools and other operations. An additional $500 million within the operating budget is attached to special revenue funds, which cannot be moved to increase the school system’s budget. This includes fire and rescue and the agricultural land preservation fund.
Councilwomen Liz Walsh and Deb Jung last week proposed amending the county’s budget to give an additional $8 million to the school system. They said the move would have helped schools maintain current class sizes and teacher jobs, as well as pay for a bus routing software project and increase substitute teachers’ pay by $5 a day.
They initially proposed moving money from departments with historic surpluses, carryover balances from last fiscal year and from funded job vacancies within the executive branch including the Department of Public Works and the Department of Planning and Zoning.
Citing concern expressed by department heads, Walsh and Jung in a series of late amendments altered where the money would come from in a series of late amendments. The only two departments affected are vehicle services and the Office of Risk Management.
The council voted unanimously to trim the measure for the school system by $6 million. The operating budget, as passed, will give $1.3 million to direct instruction and an additional $700,000 with the intention it would go toward funding transportation software and raising substitute teacher pay.
The school board met Monday to will meet on Monday at 4 p.m., Monday, where members they will likely discuss ways to find savings so they don’t have to in other places as to not increase class sizes. The school system previously said it would save $6.5 million if they increased class size by one student.
In an email, schools spokesman Brian Basset said neither the board nor Superintendent Michael Martirano would comment on the legislation until they “have had the opportunity to review the passed budget and discuss it collectively publicly.”
The school board is scheduled to approve and adopt the county’s proposed operating and capital budgets Thursday.
Despite voting in favor of the budget, Councilman David Yungmann said via email he does not support it because it “underfunds retirement benefits [and] wastes police funds on executive protection.”
He specifically supported the school system’s budgets to help “broker a deal” with other council members, which he “believed was more important than a protest vote against the overall budget,” he said.
The County Council also voted in favor of increasing the fire and rescue tax by 34% — or 6 cents.
Yungmann was the only lawmaker to vote against the measure, citing concern for its impact on his district, which includes the western and more rural part of Howard.
The current fire and rescue tax rate is 17.6 cents for every $100 of assessed value on real property, which includes residences, buildings and farms. It will be increased to 23.6 cents by mid-summer. The tax on eligible personal property owned by businesses would also increase by 15 cents or 34%. The current rate is 44 cents per $100 assessed value. Eligible property includes furniture and equipment used to operate a business.
Howard’s median property value is estimated at $440,500, according to data maintained by the companies Deloitte and Datawheel. Against this figure, the tax will increase by at least $264, according to a county official.
Two weeks ago, Yungmann filed an amendment that would have phased in the increase by roughly 10% over three years. It was pulled because it was not legally sufficient, he said, meaning the way the bill was written did not comply with county ordinance.
The operating budget also contributes funding to some county nonprofits including the Ellicott City Partnership, which was given $100,000 — a 50% increase from last year.
Last year, the county contributed $639,738 of Foreign-Born Information and Referral Network’s overall $1.1 million budget. The nonprofit, which works closely with undocumented immigrants to provide a variety of services including legal support and interpretation, received level funding for the next fiscal year.
The County Council approved allocating $15 million in the capital budget to the multi-year plan to reduce flooding in historic Ellicott City, which is estimated to cost between $113 million and $140 million. The plan calls for boring a tunnel, building retention ponds and fully razing four buildings at the bottom of lower Main Street.
The plan will dramatically reduce the velocity of cascading floodwaters and leave a maximum water level of 3 feet on lower Main Street if the 2016 flood were to occur again, county officials said.
The county is “pursuing” a public-private partnership to pay for the two most expensive projects, the tunnel and a large retention pond located just south of the Tiber River, an official previously said. Other projects costing less than $5 million will be funded through bonds and revenues within the capital budget. The county still has to pay an estimated maximum of $108.5 million to finish the plan.
“I want to thank the Howard County Council for helping us create a strong blueprint for the future of our community,” Ball said in a statement. “I appreciate their collaboration on education funding to ensure we achieve our collective vision for Howard County. Our operating and capital budgets will responsibly manage tax payer dollars to support our community needs.”