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Howard Council passes FY16 budget

Place cards are set up on a table at the ceremony where the new Howard County Council would hold their first session after taking their oaths of office Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 at Glenelg High School in Glenelg.
Place cards are set up on a table at the ceremony where the new Howard County Council would hold their first session after taking their oaths of office Monday, Dec. 1, 2014 at Glenelg High School in Glenelg. (Jon Sham, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

The Howard County Council voted unanimously to adopt capital and operating budgets for fiscal year 2016, which total about $1.4 billion combined.

This year's budget reels in the county's borrowing by $24 million while funding a long-awaited library and senior center for Elkridge, new mental health initiatives and construction of an elementary school in the southeast, among other projects.

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Councilmembers agreed on most of the tweaks they made to the budget proposed by County Executive Allan Kittleman, which largely remained intact. But two of the council's Democrats argued schools -- which received a total of $776 million in state and county funding -- should have been given a little more.

An amendment from Councilmembers Calvin Ball, of east Columbia, and Jen Terrasa, who represents the county's southeast, sought to move $7 million from the county's annual other post employment benefits, or OPEB, contribution to pay for renovations to Oakland Mills Middle School, fund new playground equipment and provide some money for teacher raises.

Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Renee Foose told the council earlier this week that the school system didn't have room in its budget to fund a pay step or cost-of-living increase for its staff this year. The school system and teachers' union recently declared an impasse in negotiations over salary and benefits for next fiscal year.

"I think this one's an important one," Terrasa said othe proposal. "While certainly it's not a huge amount of money to add to the school system, it's all that we can do."

The remaining three councilmembers, however, said they were concerned about cutting down the county's OPEB contribution, which totaled $10 million in Kittleman's proposal.

"We're in a position where we've been kicking the can down the road," said Councilman Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican.

Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty, a Democrat from west Columbia, agreed. "We're further behind than we want to be, we're further behind than our plan called for," she said. "We have an obligation."

Sigaty and Fox were joined by Councilman Jon Weinstein in voting against Ball and Terrasa's proposal.

Another last-minute change to the budget allotted $100,000 in funding for the Patapsco Heritage Greenway, the local group charged with promoting the historical and environmental heritage of the Patapsco Valley, which straddles the line between Howard and Baltimore counties.

Friday afternoon, Kittleman said he was pleased with the council's vote.

"I submitted a lean, sustainable budget to the County Council for FY 2016, which was balanced, yet funded our shared priorities," he said in a statement. "I am confident that we are prepared for future challenges and the County will head into Fiscal Year 2016 on sound fiscal footing."

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