Baltimore County voters approved several changes on Tuesday to the way county government operates, and also spending initiatives totaling more than $490 million — all part of a package of questions on the general election ballot.
Several ballot questions dealt with gaining approval to authorize the county to borrow money for infrastructure projects, the biggest being more than $335 million for schools, including land acquisition, construction, renovations and modernizations. The county is in the midst of a massive effort to upgrade aging public schools and build several new ones to address projections that show the system will need some 1,700 additional seats over the next decade.
Voters showed wide support for the school spending measure.
Other spending initiatives were also approved, including measures to borrow more than $68 million for highway and bridge projects; $47 million for facilities such as libraries, senior centers, and health and police facilities; $15 million for the county’s community college; $10 million for water and stormwater projects; nearly $9 million for waste disposal projects; $4 million for parks and recreation facilities; and $2 million for agriculture preservation.
Meanwhile, the changes in government operation were being considered as revisions in the County Charter, the document that spells out the way the county government runs. In 2016 county voters approved a measure that requires a review of the charter every 10 years, and the first review resulted in more than a half-dozen proposed revisions.
One of the more substantive changes on the ballot approved by voters will give the County Council oversight over benefits granted to “exempt employees” — including many top county officials. Until last year, such employees had been under an “executive benefits policy” that could include lucrative perks that were never reviewed or approved by the council. Changing that system will mean that the county executive now must recommend a compensation system that will be voted on by the council.
Another change that voters approved will extend the life of proposed legislation being heard by the County Council to 65 days — currently, if the council doesn’t act on a bill within 40 days, it expires. Advocates for this ballot question have said the 40-day window makes the review process too rushed, and the 65-day life will give council members more time to consider bills — and give the public more time to weigh in.
One charter amendment — clarifying that the county’s Department of Public Works is responsible transportation issues, including mass transit, bike paths and sidewalks — received the most widespread support, with approval by more than 85 percent of voters.
Voters also approved minor changes to the charter, such as inserting modern gender references; eliminating some outdated duties for the county attorney and county executive; and requiring that a county executive who wins a second term bring department heads to the County Council for reconfirmation.