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Howard County Executive Ball proposes $1.7 billion budget, recommends raising fire and rescue tax

Howard County Executive Ball proposes $1.7 billion budget, recommends raising fire and rescue tax
County Executive Calvin Ball offers spending vouchers to visitors during a press conference on Main Street in Old Ellicott City on Dec. 21. (Brian Krista / Baltimore Sun Media Group file)

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has presented a $1.7 billion operating budget for fiscal 2020, a 3% increase from last year.

“Though we are facing a tough fiscal climate, this budget invests in Howard County, maintaining our national reputation as one of the best places to live, work and play,” Ball said Monday night while presenting the budget to the County Council.

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Ball has proposed increasing funding for Howard Community College and the Howard County Library System by 2.5% each.

The budget also proposes giving the police department $487,000 “to support the new school bus camera enforcement initiative.” The move would allow cameras to be installed on the sides of school buses, which will snap photos of cars that fail to stop for stopped buses, resulting in fines for the drivers.

The county saw a 7% increase in revenues, the budget proposal said. Forty-three percent of revenues are accrued from property taxes and 27% comes from personal income taxes. Revenue also comes from other local taxes, money charged for services, and licenses and permits.

Officials are basing much of the county’s projected revenues on a plan to increase a tax on fire and rescue by 6 cents. The tax has not been raised since 2013.

The increase would need to take place this coming fiscal year because of the need to support personnel and the two new fire stations scheduled to be built in the county, according to the budget. The move would add $29.5 million in revenue this year, the budget predicted.

The proposal comes one month after a committee warned the county its spending could soon outpace its revenues. The Spending Affordability Advisory Committee suggested looking at increasing the fire tax and imposing an ambulance fee, which would need the approval of the County Council.

In the budget plan, Ball presented a $450,000 initiative that would convert the county’s 8,000 streetlights to LED. The county anticipates the investment would save the county $3 million over 20 years.

The budget also recommends allocating $600,000 to support Merriweather Post Pavilion’s renovations.

The council is scheduled to adopt the operating budget by May 30. The county’s fiscal 2020 year begins July 1.

“With historically high funding to education, strengthened public safety funding, support for preserving our environment, and investments in public health and wellness, my proposal will protect our exceptional quality of life,” Ball said.

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