Representatives talk economic optimism at Catonsville chamber

Local legislators offered hope tempered with an acknowledgment of the economy's continuing lethargy as they spoke during the annual legislative luncheon hosted by the Greater Catonsville Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Nov. 14.

"Our economy is going to continue to be very flat," said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, speaking before Catonsville's business leaders for the first time since his December 2010 election.

With tax revenues seemingly destined to continue to decline, Kamenetz said the county will continue to emphasize maintaining what it already has and encourage private enterprise.

"We're doing what we can afford to do," he said.

He pointed out that the county budget has been balanced without furloughs or firings as the number of employees has been reduced through attrition and retirement to the lowest level in 25 years.

He also said the county retains its Triple-A bond rating without increases in property or income taxes.

"It's a great testament to all the people who've worked so hard in Baltimore County for so many years to achieve that," he said.

The use of new technology has streamlined departments and made employees more efficient, Kamenetz said.

He pointed out that the county website offers a means to make online complaints with a constituent tracking system while "My Neighborhood" interactive feature shows residents information on schools, zoning and election districts.

The police department's e-citations shortens the time it takes to write a ticket, he said, and GPS units installed in county vehicles will aid employees in planning the most efficient route for their day.

Rather than expanding county government, his office will focus on three priorities: education, public safety and infrastructure.

Efforts are underway to modernize county schools with $32.5 million to install air-conditioning in 12 county schools.

Kamenetz said he is also working with new Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance to combine some departments and to move school office staff from leased space to vacant offices in county buildings in order to reduce expenses.

The school system's $1.33 billion budget accounts for 52 percent of the county's operating budget.

Since the county's roads, buildings and water and sewage systems are aging, efforts will be made to maintain them, he said.

The county budget has $20 million for road surfacing projects in fiscal year 2013 and 2014 and $26 million to buy heavy equipment for the Department of Public Works' Bureau of Solid Waster, Bureau of Utilities and Snow Removal Operations, for example.

"I won't be doing a lot of ribbon cutting," Kamenetz told the chamber.

Still, businesses are growing in the area, according to 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk.

Quirk, whose district includes Catonsville, noted that Kaiser Permanente is scheduled to open a new $109 million medical facility in Lansdowne in April and that there has been a $50 million investment to upgrade technology at Diageo on Washington Boulevard, a alcoholic beverage company which produces Captain Morgan products and soon will produce Smirnoff beverages.

Quirk also noted that $5 million in industrial revenue bonds from the county will go to Alberee Products, a wiper blade manufacturer, and another $5 million will go to Goodwrappers. Both are in Halethorpe.

He also pointed to new and continued support for the Arbutus business district, a new Baltimore Highlands senior housing project, new buildings on the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County and a new supermarket at Security Square Mall.

State Sen. Edward Kasemeyer, who represents District 12 that includes Catonsville, Arbutus and part of Howard County, said the coming year could be very grim unless Congress acts on the budget.

"You definitely would have another recession occur if the folks in Washington don't get it together," he said.

The state is estimated to lose $600 million in tax revenues and 60,000 jobs if the terms of the Budget Control Act of 2011 go into effect Jan.1, he said.

Del. Steven DeBoy, who represents District 12A that includes the Baltimore County portion of Kasemeyer's district, said action in the upcoming General Assembly will depend on how Washington politicians act on the budget.

"We're going to find out what they're made of," he said.

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