Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger proposed yesterday a $1.8 billion budget for next year that establishes education as a top priority by calling for $132 million in school construction spending, the purchase of thousands of school computers and books and hiring about 130 teachers.
Though the county is sitting on a surplus estimated at $85 million as of June 30, Ruppersberger's budget offers no tax cut. Instead, it would pump money into revitalizing neighborhoods, beefing up public safety and raising pay for teachers and county workers.
"The effects of the strong national economy continue to filter down," Ruppersberger told county workers yesterday. "We are fortunate to serve Baltimore County at a time when such resources are available."
The budget calls for an overall spending increase of $56.4 million, an increase funded by additional income and property tax receipts generated by the booming economy.
Though the tax rate would remain at $2.855 per $100 of assessed value, the average homeowner would pay about $30 more in property taxes next year because of graduated increases in state property tax assessments.
Other major initiatives in the spending plan include $2 million to begin planning a town center in Owings Mills and $21.7 million to begin revitalization projects in the Liberty Road corridor in Randallstown, portions of Dundalk, Essex/Middle River, and in other communities.
"We are very, very pleased," Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said of Ruppersberger's proposed budget, which would increase education spending by $39.3 million over this year.
Marchione asked county officials to pay for 411 new school positions. Ruppersberger proposed funding about half those jobs, a situation that could slow the school system's efforts to reduce class sizes, Marchione said.
Still, he was pleased with a proposal to fill 29 school guidance and counseling positions, enough to provide counselors for every elementary school in the county. He also welcomed reading specialists, one each for the county's six alternative schools, and the assignment of 16 police officers to county middle and high schools.
Teachers could receive raises worth 5 percent to 6.4 percent, depending on years of experience and education. The proposal calmed the nerves of labor leaders who were unsure the county would support a raise.
"I'm ecstatic about the raise," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "It's the largest raise since the late '80s."
School principals would be given 9 percent pay increases over two years, and most clerical workers would receive 2 percent raises.
School librarians were ecstatic over a plan to spend $10.5 million in the next year to purchase close to 400,000 books for the middle and high school libraries. Marchione had proposed spending the same amount over three years to enlarge and modernize the libraries.
"Oh, my God," said Della Curtis, the school system's coordinator of library information services. "I have to tell you, I am so excited. Wow. The blood has left my veins. That is great."
Ruppersberger has also recommended purchasing 6,600 computers for county public schools.
School officials were pleasantly surprised by a proposal to build a 600-seat middle school in the Randallstown/Woodlawn area that would ease crowding at Woodlawn, Old Court and Southwestern middle schools.
Ruppersberger proposed spending $132 million for school construction, $42 million from the state and $90 million from the county. That money could help to complete renovation projects at the county's 112 elementary schools ahead of schedule.
Ruppersberger also wants to increase the county government work force to 7,840, an increase of 92 positions, including 13 paramedics, six firefighters, 16 Department of Aging staff members and 15 technicians to work in the county housing office.
County government workers would receive 2 percent cost-of-living increases under the proposed budget, along with any step or longevity pay increases built into their contracts.
The budget also proposes spending $534,000 to put 16 more police officers in middle and high schools, hiring 28 police officers for foot patrols in commercial districts, and opening Police Athletic League centers at Reisterstown and Mars Estates elementary schools.
The budget will be the subject of a public hearing at 7 p.m. April 25 at Loch Raven High School.
Council President Joseph Bartenfelder said the council, which is restricted to cutting the proposed budget, will look closely at proposed operating costs.
"We'll be looking at any increases, making sure they are going to areas where we feel they should be going," Bartenfelder said.