As election season heats up, party affiliations were on clear display at the Anne Arundel County Council’s Thursday afternoon meeting to amend County Executive Steuart Pittman’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget.
Conservative council members presented amendments to cut a proposed diversity, equity and inclusion position, free menstrual products in library bathrooms, and the department budgets for public works and planning and zoning. They also supported an amendment restricting undocumented immigrants from accessing county services.
All of those proposed changes to the budget were voted down largely due to a 4-3 Democratic majority on the council. The final amended budget will be voted on Tuesday.
The meeting presented voters with an opportunity to see where their council members stand on hot button political issues a month before the July 19 primary election, the winners of which will become their party’s nominees for the November general election. Republicans are eager to reclaim the majority on the seven-member council they last held in 2018.
Annapolis Democrat Lisa Rodvien, Glen Burnie Democrat Allison Pickard, Pasadena Republican Nathan Volke and Arnold Republican Amanda Fiedler are all running for reelection to their council seats this year. Meanwhile, Gambrills Democrat Andrew Pruski, who has reached his term limit after eight years on the council, is running for a House of Delegates seat in District 33A, and Jessup Democrat Sarah Lacey is running for the District 32 Senate seat. Jessica Haire, an Edgewater Republican, is running for county executive.
An amendment sponsored by all three Republicans would have eliminated a new diversity, equity and inclusion position focused on connecting county residents with fair housing and financial opportunities. This person also would work on implementing anti-discrimination laws and review employee and citizen complaints.
The county executive’s office has expanded quite a lot over the past few years, Haire said, and the three Republicans didn’t feel the position was needed. The amendment was voted down, as all four Democratic council members voted against it.
“We believe very much that it is necessary,” said Budget Officer Chris Trumbauer.
Fiedler sponsored an amendment cutting the provision that would offer free menstrual products at the county’s public libraries from the fiscal 2023 plan.
While the state is now requiring schools to offer these products in their bathrooms, the requirement doesn’t extend to libraries, Fiedler said.
“I think it would be the more conservative approach to see the impact on supply-demand,” Fiedler said. “To first see what the state requirement at the school level does to demand at the libraries.”
The county isn’t offering the products because of a requirement or potential future regulation, Trumbauer said. Pittman’s team believes this is the right thing to do as does the library system, which requested the addition.
All four Democrats voted against the amendment and it was rejected.
Rodvien, a county public schoolteacher, attested to the need for menstrual products among students and the distraction not having them can create.
“This is a very real concern,” she said. “I’ve had young ladies experiencing period poverty and coming to their teachers, coming to our health rooms needing supplies.”
Several amendments aimed at cutting funding for certain departments like the Department of Public Works and the Office of Planning and Zoning also failed despite complaints from Republicans that there was often leftover money in the budgets of those departments.
Haire and Fiedler argued that historical evidence shows the turnover rate, that is the rate at which employees enter and leave jobs, often leaves excess funding in the Department of Public Works budget.
Fiedler, Haire and Volke also proposed cutting three new positions from the Office of Planning and Zoning. The department is consistently run with several vacancies, Haire said, and should focus on filling those roles, not adding more.
Trumbauer retorted that these particular positions are aimed at easing the caseload on current inspectors. While the county is working on filling the vacancies, the new positions meet a specific and immediate need.
Both amendments failed.
Another amendment sponsored by Volke would have required undocumented immigrants to present identification to access county programs.
Rodvien said she feared that this kind of restriction could potentially lead to crime as these residents seek to meet basic needs of food and health care.
“We need to support all of the residents regardless of what our opinions are of how they arrived here,” she said.
The logistics of implementing such a proposal are unimaginable, Trumbauer said, pointing to examples like obtaining a COVID test or vaccination or getting food from a food bank.
”If a hungry child comes up for a food program, we’re not going to check status,” he said. “What the county’s interested in doing is helping people who need to be helped.”
Maryland Policy & Politics
The proposal failed along party lines.
Crownsville Hospital Center
After Crownsville Hospital Center is acquired by the county later this year, as expected by county officials, Pittman plans to build a nonprofit incubation center in one of the buildings. An amendment sponsored by Haire and Fielder would have eliminated this plan, for which $3.5 million was allocated.
Nearby Pascal Crisis Stabilization Center should be allowed to use the building after it’s renovated, Fiedler argued, as the need for crisis beds in the county is high.
While most agreed with Fiedler that the shortage of crisis beds is a critical issue, many struggled over the decisions of what would be the best use of this highly valuable property.
Trumbauer explained that these funds will benefit whatever Pittman and the council settle on doing with the space. This money is simply to get the long-abandoned building up to modern safety standards, he said.
The council voted along party lines to defeat the amendment.