The Anne Arundel County Department of Health was given $5.4 million of supplementary appropriations funding from the state to continue to combat COVID and bolster the department’s resources to help vaccinate children 5-11, after the Anne Arundel County Council voted four to three along party lines in favor of the ordinance.
The fund will go toward helping pay the department’s 140 staff members, expanding the workforce, training staff in health equity and emergency preparedness and opioid prevention programs.
“We’re having a great deal of trouble hiring medical staff, in particular registered nurses for our school health programs,” said Billie Penley, Chief Financial Officer at the Anne Arundel County Department of Health.
Out of those funds, $2.2 million will go toward personal services for disease prevention and $1.2 million will go toward supplies and materials for disease prevention.
Chairwoman Sarah Lacey, D-Jessup, testified that her kids recently got vaccinated by county health department staff and she was pleased with how smoothly the process went and how comfortable the children were during the vaccination experience.
“I especially like the addition of lollipops in the waiting area,” Lacey said.
Anne Arundel county executive Steuart Pittman commented on the bill the morning after the vote, saying he was disappointed three of the seven councilmembers voted against transferring the money to the health department.
“We’re not immune to some of the most divisive and irresponsible public policy that plagues our country,” Pittman said.
He said he was disappointed any councilmembers would vote against funding opioid intervention programs, COVID prevention programs and resources to vaccinate kids.
The council also voted unanimously to pass 38 acres of land from the county to the Board of Education to build an elementary school at 1127 Bragers Road in Odenton.
Another bill was voted down that would have allowed three members of the council to ask for grants to be voted upon after being approved by the county executive. The county executive currently holds the power to approve grants. The bill was designed specifically to put guardrails in place around unilateral spending decisions involving the $112 million in American Rescue Plan funding the county is getting, bill sponsor Amanda Fielder, R-Arnold, said.
The Republicans on the council voted in favor of the bill, while all Democrats were opposed besides Chairwoman Lacey, who voted in favor of it. However, since it was an emergency ordinance, the bill needed a majority of five votes to pass.
Chris Trumbauer, Chief Budget Officer for the County Executive’s Office, said the council has the ability to do this already as the office notifies the council on every grant.
Nathan Volke, R-Pasadena, noted that the difference is a councilmember can oppose a grant and the county executive can pass it anyway.
“The difference with this bill is it requires expenditures come before the council and we actually have a debate and discussion,” Volke said. “When you’re sitting here saying we already have what we need, we don’t.”
Dawn Pulliam, a Republican candidate for the District 7 County Council seat in 2022, said she doesn’t support the amendment of requiring three members of the council to present a grant but does support having the council vote on grants. Pulliam cited incentive money for employees to get vaccinated as an example of excessive spending.
“This is the checks and balances with accountability and transparency that’s embedded in Anne Arundel county code,” Pulliam said. “This isn’t monopoly money.”
An Arnold resident and former budget office staffer under several county executives, Kurt Svendsen, added, “The idea that millions of taxpayer funds distributed to Anne Arundel County government can be extended without review and approval by the County Council, the fiscal authority, is unconscionable.”
Exemptions for developers
The county voted six to one, with only Councilwoman Allison Pickard, D-Glen Burnie, in opposition, on a bill that will exempt developers from following a guideline set in place by the adequate public facilities that bans developers from building over a certain capacity in transit-oriented areas.
The bill allows developers to build apartments smaller than two bedrooms large, despite limits from the APF ordinance. However, those units rarely contribute to overcrowding in schools, as families with school-aged children tend to live in larger units. Another requirement of the bill is the units must be within a mile of an Amtrak Rail station or MARC commuter rail station.
“Currently, those projects are limited on the capacity of school limits. There are no potential burdens on our school system from doing this,” Philip Dales said, an Annapolis-based land use attorney.
Maryland Policy & Politics
Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, D-Annapolis, wavered on the final vote, concerned there wasn’t enough consideration for specializing the bill to help benefit the creation of affordable housing. She said she was also concerned about how this could make these areas too homogenous.
“I’m concerned we’re not accommodating a family living in a transit-oriented space,” Rodvien said.
Though Pickard voted against the bill as a general rule for transit-oriented areas, she sponsored a bill to allow for the exemption specifically for the Glen Burnie Sustainable Community Overlay Area. The county passed an amendment, 5-2, aimed at tightening up the language of the bill to close potential loopholes. Volke and Lacey voted in opposition. The bill will come back for a final vote Dec. 6..
Pickard said she wanted to amend the bill because she thought, as it was written originally, it might allow certain developments to build unlimited rooms.
“I’m concerned if you were building a townhouse you could get the exemption without limiting rooms.” Pickard said arguing for her bill to be amended. She said the amendment creates more restrictions on how many rooms a developer could build in a unit in the area.
Pickard’s bill has a limit on the exemption that reads: “If multifamily dwellings form part of the mix of uses, no less than 50% of the dwelling units consist of efficiency or one-bedroom units and no dwelling units have more than two bedrooms.”
This article has been updated to correct what the source of funding was to the county health department. The Anne Arundel County Council voted in favor of letting the county health department use $5.4 million from state funding.