Fact-checking some claims made on the campaign trail in Baltimore County

During the campaign for Baltimore County executive, candidates Al Redmer Jr. and Johnny Olszewski Jr. both have repeated several assertions about how the county government operates. According to county government data and other sources, it appears that not all of them are entirely true.

Here is a look at some of the key claims made by Redmer, a Republican, and Olszewski, a Democrat.

Claim: The state owes Baltimore County for school construction.

The candidates have variously claimed that the state owes the county hundreds of millions of dollars for completed school construction projects. Redmer has pegged the number at $200 million; Olszewski says it’s $250 million.

The actual number is in between: $207.8 million.

According to county budget officials, the county is waiting on the state to pay $36.5 million for two projects from the prior fiscal year: the in-progress renovation of Woodlawn High School and the completed construction of Honeygo Elementary School.

For the current fiscal year, the county is expecting to receive state funds totaling $171.3 million for this year’s projects, including the new Colgate Elementary School and new Dundalk Elementary School that are under construction

Claim: The county is $2 billion in debt.

Redmer has made this assertion. Actually, by the end of the current fiscal year next June, the county estimates its outstanding level of debt to be $2.27 billion, according to county budget officials.

A bond rating agency put the county on a “watch list.”

Redmer has said the county is on a bond agency “watch list.” There is no such thing, but he’s correct that there is concern about the county’s fiscal health.

Baltimore County, like most local governments, pays for construction projects by borrowing money. This is done by issuing bonds. Three agencies set ratings on those bonds that influence what the interest rate is. The better the rating, the cheaper it is for the county to borrow money, similar to an individual’s credit rating.

Baltimore County has the top rating, triple-A, from all three bond rating agencies.

But earlier this year, Moody’s Investors Service changed its outlook on the county to “negative.” Moody’s explained that the negative outlook is warranted because the county has “mounting challenges,” including a lot of expensive construction projects needed for schools, water lines and sewer pipes.

Moody’s said the county’s bond rating could be downgraded from AAA if the county drains its reserve fund, takes on too much debt, doesn’t follow its own limits on spending and borrowing or has problems with the Metropolitan District, which is the joint city-county program for the regional water and sewer service.

The other two rating agencies — Fitch and Standard & Poor’s — continue to have a “stable” outlook for the county.

Claim: The county’s police department is understaffed.

Redmer has suggested that the county police are understaffed by about 100 officers. According to Cpl. Shawn Vinson, a spokesman for the Baltimore County Police, the department currently has 45 officer vacancies.

Claim: The police recruiting budget is $26,000, with three officers.

This claim has also been discussed by Redmer. The police department’s recruiting unit is staffed by two police officers and one corporal, who make a combined $290,498 in salary, according to Vinson.

Their budget also includes $16,825 for advertising and $7,200 for supplies, which adds up to $24,025.

pwood@baltsun.com

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