As the leader of a large, diverse and rapidly urbanizing jurisdiction, Baltimore County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger is in the difficult position of trying to uphold the county's quality of life while its revenue sources stagnate.
Mr. Ruppersberger echoed his predecessor, Republican Roger B. Hayden, in his first budget address yesterday when he said, "The days of unlimited government resources are over and will likely never return." The county has no choice but to "refocus our existing resources."
Under the Democratic executive's budget proposal of $1.3 billion, the refocusing will mainly benefit the public schools and the police department. The total expenditures include $917 million in county funds, $19 million more than in the previous year. Of that increase, $14 million would go to the school system, $4 million to the police.
Another Ruppersberger priority is the revitalization and conservation of the county's older communities. The budget would allocate funds to reconstruct 50 alleys and 250 miles of roadway. These modest repairs would fall well short of sprucing up every semi-urban neighborhood in Baltimore County, but they constitute an important first step that will need to be repeated in years to come.
For now, modest steps are the most to be hoped for, given two facts: The county's income tax growth rate of 1.9 percent is the third-lowest in Maryland, and general fund revenues are estimated to grow only 2.67 percent over this year's. This means taking care of the basics while reserving remaining funds for essentials, as Mr. Ruppersberger and his advisers have done. Nothing will be added to the county's rainy-day fund, though at $29.2 million the reserve should protect against the impact of expected cuts in federal aid.
Credit Mr. Ruppersberger for a big-picture budget that, despite the revenue jitters, shows he understands that good schools, safe streets and attractive communities are among the best economic development tools a struggling county can use.