Over the course of public hearings on Anne Arundel County’s proposed fiscal 2023 budget, residents raised concerns about changes to Jumpers Hole Road and higher pay for some school faculty.
But to the surprise of County Council members and other leaders, the two meetings, held on May 9 and Wednesday, were dominated by talk of building a rowing facility and providing more water access for rowers. The problem is that the rowing facility isn’t in County Executive Steuart Pittman’s proposed fiscal plan.
The May 9 meeting was dominated by testimony related to creating a rowing facility at Homeport Farm Park in Edgewater. Rowers said they needed a facility to house their boats and from which they can launch into the water, while area residents shared concerns about such a facility disturbing the park’s ecosystem.
Partway through the meeting, County Council Chair Lisa Rodvien, an Annapolis Democrat, interrupted testimony to share a message she had received from Director of Recreation and Parks Jessica Leys.
“There is no budget request for Homeport Farm Park in fiscal year ‘23,” Rodvien said. “What there is, already underway, is a study for all underutilized parks in the county. Any recommendations that would come out of that study would be subject to the park development process which would include public meetings and a future budget request that would be specific and public input. I fear that there’s been a lot of misinformation.”
The day after the meeting, Pittman said he believed the root of the rumor was a letter published in the Chesapeake Paddlers Association newsletter.
“I believe that may have been the way it got spread,” Pittman said at a Tuesday news conference. “I think one or two people has been claiming to have an inside story on something that’s going on that is not, in fact, going on. I think that’s why so many people showed up.”
In a letter to the council members, Leys explained that the process of searching for another water access point and/or boat storage facility is still in the early stages.
Homeport Farm Park was briefly considered years ago, Leys said in the letter, but was determined not to be the right spot.
“The department is currently studying three locations to possibly expand water access, including boat ramps, vessel launches, and to address the needs of the paddling and rowing community,” Leys said in the letter.
Recreation and Parks is looking at options in Annapolis and other sites before decisions are made on a location and amenities, Leys said.
One option being discussed is a paddle park at the entrance of the City of Annapolis on Rowe Boulevard, Pittman said.
Despite attempts from Rodvien, Leys and Pittman to clarify that there is no plan to create a rowing facility at Homeport Farm Park, concerned residents of the area came to testify at the second public hearing on the budget on Wednesday to request the council not approve any sort of boathouse at Homeport.
Rowers returned to the second hearing, urging the county to prioritize finding a public spot for them to row and store boats. Many stressed how the sport has the rare ability to accommodate people with certain disabilities.
Ellianna Shields, a senior at Annapolis High School and member of Annapolis Junior Rowing, testified from her wheelchair about how meaningful the sport has been to her since she developed a debilitating condition more than a year ago.
A challenge Shields faced once she started using her wheelchair was navigating the rough terrain of Camp Woodlands, an Annapolis Girl Scout camp where rowers practice, she said. Luckily, a golf cart was donated and she was able to finish last season.
“This regained ability to get back in the boat and on the water gave me back hope,” Shields said. “A truly accessible community launch for canoers, kayakers and rowers would not only allow me access to our beautiful waterways but, to anyone else in our community who is limited by their disability.”
Sidewalks, bike lanes and teacher pay
While the water access issue monopolized the two sessions, other residents raised concerns about items that actually were in the 2023 fiscal plan.
Several residents from the northern part of the county testified Wednesday abouta project to add sidewalks and bike lanes to Jumpers Hole Road from Benfield Boulevard to Earleigh Heights/Kinder Road/Kinder Park. The project is estimated to cost a total of $13 million, according to the fiscal 2023 budget.
Proponents of the plan say the bike and pedestrian lanes would help them get to nearby shopping centers and trails. Those opposed said the road is already dangerous, and adding pedestrians and cyclists into the mix may make the thoroughfare more unsafe.
Meanwhile, others testified about pay for educators.
Several public school staff members shared their concerns at Wednesday’s meeting about literacy teachers and school counselors not getting the $10,000 pay raise other school staff will get for being board-certified under the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a school reform plan enacted by the state of Maryland.
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Lauren Long, a literacy teacher at Four Seasons Elementary in Gambrills, said that board-certified literacy teachers will not be eligible for the same pay raise as other board-certified teachers.
When she learned literacy teachers were being left out , she called human resources and was told the county wasn’t aware literacy teachers worked with students, Long said.
“We are all working with students nonstop, even if it isn’t in our job description,” she said, warning that if the county didn’t find funding for the pay raiseschool literacy teachers, this classification of educators would start leaving Anne Arundel County Public Schools at high rates. “There is really no monetary incentive to stay in these positions right now.”
Kim Baicar, a board-certified school counselor with Anne Arundel County Public Schools, said her classification has also been left out of the pay raise and requested the $10,000 pay raise for them be factored into the budget, too.
School counselors interface with students one-on-one and do small group instruction, Baicar said.
AACPS spokesperson Bob Mosier said decisions about who to include in the pay raise were made by applying the state mandates from the Blueprint to AACPS.
The County Council will convene June 9 to discuss amendments to the budget.