Turf at Towson High, downtown police and schools construction part of 2015 budget

The Towson area will benefit from a new turf field at Towson High, additional police officers in downtown Towson and area school construction projects as part of the county's fiscal year 2015 budget, County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced Tuesday.

"This budget helps address two of the most consistent concerns I hear about Towson's growth — public safety and the need to preserve and improve green space," Councilman David Marks, who represents the 5th District, including Towson, said in a statement.

The artificial turf field is part of a $2 million budget item for fields at Towson High as well as Dundalk High and the new Catonsville Regional Park at Spring Grove State Hospital. The cost for the Towson High field specifically was not given.

The funds will be supplemented by $55,000 from a state bond bill championed by 42nd District Sen. Jim Brochin and Del. Steve Lafferty, both of whom represent the Towson area, for a new scoreboard. According to the bond bill, which was approved during this winter's legislative session, the scoreboard will cost $78,000, plus $24,000 for construction. The Towson High Sports Boosters have earmarked $51,000 for the scoreboard.

"From the Sports Boosters organization to the administration at Towson High School to our local representatives, it's really the culmination of a lot of work," Bruce Chesser, president of the THS Sports Boosters, said.

"Our goal when the Sports Boosters came together about three years ago, we organized in a little more structured way and … wanted to make the athletic experience commensurate with the academic excellence at Towson High School," he said.

Towson will also be one of the focal points of what Kamenetz called the "Schools for Our Future" program. Combined with school construction projects completed countywide since 2011, and further funded by an anticipated $240 million in state funds and an additional $460 in the next three referenda, the program is slated to use $1.1 billion to stem overcrowding and update school infrastructure within the 10-year period of 2011 to 2021.

Many of the Towson-area school projects which fall under this program have already been completed, such as the new Carver Center school, as well as renovations at Hampton and Stoneleigh, and building a new 700-seat school in Mays Chapel to address critical overcrowding issues at area elementaries. Also included are a 189-seat addition and renovation at Cromwell Valley Elementary, the renovation of Halstead Academy for a future magnet program, and a new 600-seat school at the Loch Raven Elementary site.

"This was a bold budget request, and the county executive deserves credit for being bold as well," Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said in a statement. "He has embraced the changes we need to make — planning for more than 5,000 new students projected to arrive in the next decade and for the 21st century learning environment those students — and the ones learning in our classroom today will need."

Kamenetz also included in his budget $500,000 in design funds for new community centers in Catonsville and Loch Raven — the latter of which will likely replace the services now provided in the old Loch Raven Elementary building.

In addition, five police officers will be assigned to Towson's downtown "entertainment district." With the $85 million Towson Square project, which features a 15-screen Cinemark theater and eight restaurants, scheduled to open this summer, residents and business leaders have expressed concern about crowd control and safety in the downtown area.

Paul Hartman, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said growth in the area, plus the seemingly increased popularity of Towson's bars, has made the addition to the police force necessary.

Councilman Todd Huff, who represents the 3rd District, which includes Cockeysville and northern Baltimore County, said he was glad to see the inclusion of county funds for a $1.5 million for a therapeutic riding arena at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture in Cockeysville, and $6 million for the county's new animal services facility in Baldwin.

Overall, Kamenetz said the $1.75 billion operating budget, which is up 3.85 percent from last year, and $175.7 million capital budget, represent the fiscal responsibility he has sought since his election in 2010. Kamenetz said the upcoming budget will mark the 26th straight year without property tax rate increases, and the 22nd straight year without an increase to the income tax rate.

The budget will be subject to a public hearing on Tuesday, April 29, before the County Council votes to approve it May 22.

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