Despite the state's budget troubles, Baltimore County will push the General Assembly for $30 million in school construction funds and at least another $9 million for projects that would include aid to Tropical Storm Isabel victims and incentives for a residential and retail complex in downtown Towson, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. announced yesterday.
The county's wish list is slightly larger than it was going into last year's legislative session. Smith acknowledged that the state still faces a tough revenue picture - projected expenses outpace expected taxes by $700 million this year - but said more funding for schools and other priorities is essential to maintaining progress in revitalizing older communities.
"In tough economic times, our infrastructure doesn't stop aging, our citizens don't need fewer services and our children don't need less education," Smith told legislators at a breakfast meeting. "Now is not the time to be timid in our work as representatives of the people. Now is not the time to put the needs of our citizens on the shelf for another year."
Smith is asking for $6.7 million for construction of a new Windsor Mill Middle School in Randallstown and $4.5 million to build Woodholme Elementary School in Pikesville. He said he also will request $18.5 million to continue the county's middle school renovation program.
The county's other requests are largely focused on local projects that Smith said will further his revitalization goals. They include: $1.7 million to develop a park on the site of the now-demolished Villages of Tall Trees apartments in Essex; $760,000 for a community center in Dundalk; $329,000 to help the county buy the former Randallstown Post Office and build a police substation there; $2.5 million to help the county acquire the vacant Brenbrook Shopping Center on Liberty Road; $500,000 for a permanent freezing-weather shelter in Catonsville; and $500,000 to buy a former gas station on the Towson traffic circle and turn it into a small park.
In announcing his requests, Smith also said that a mixed-use development is in the works for downtown Towson on a site east of the traffic circle. Developers have not fully committed to the project, but County Economic Development Director David S. Iannucci said it could include an entertainment complex, retail, office space and housing for Towson University students and faculty.
The plan also would involve a new county Revenue Authority parking garage. Smith said he will ask the state for $2 million in infrastructure improvements needed for the plan.
Smith asked for unspecified matching funds for money the county has spent helping victims of Isabel.
County legislators who attended the event said that the budget prospects in Annapolis are at least as murky as they were last year, with unanswered questions about the fate of legalized slot machines and the state's Thornton legislation plan for increased school funding.
"It's going to be tough," said Del. Adrienne A.W. Jones, a Randallstown Democrat serving as speaker pro tempore of the House of Delegates.
Smith outlined a few nonfiscal priorities, including legislation to aid the prosecution of identity theft and increase regulation of group homes, both of which are holdovers from previous General Assembly sessions.
He said he will also seek two new liquor licenses for the town center development now under way at Hunt Valley Mall.