UPDATED (12:13 p.m.)—There will be no income or property tax hikes in Baltimore County, but residents also won't see a lot of bells and whistles in Kevin Kamenetz's second budget since becoming county executive.
"The revenue situation remains bleak and we expect that to continue for the next several years," Kamenetz said. "We're cutting costs wherever we can."
Kamenetz was scheduled to introduce the budget Thursday morning to the Baltimore County Council. The operating budget is slightly more than $1.6 billion—what the county executive called "an essentially flat" budget.
The proposed budget covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The county executive said he will use about $40 million in surplus funds to cover a gap in revenues—the third consecutive year the county has used so-called one-time money to fund ongoing expenses.
The move will still leave the county with a projected surplus of $250 million, including $85 million in the county's rainy day fund.
One cost cutting move was the elimination of more than 300 positions through a voluntary early retirement program.
The county hoped to save up to $15 million annually through the retirement of 200 employees. More than 600 people applied for the early retirement incentive.
Kamenetz said the county ultimately approved 310 people for the program and as a result will save $21 million annually.
The job reductions bring the total number of non-public safety general government employees to 3,340—the lowest number in 25 years.
Despite the bleak revenue outlook, Kamenetz said he will not raise income or property taxes this year— the 20th and 24th years respectively that those rates have not increased.
The operating budget as introduced tops out at just over $1.6 billion. Excluding cash for some one-time payments, that include some construction projects, the proposed budget is $3 million less than the budget for the current year—a 1 percent increase for FY 2013 over the current fiscal year budget, according to information released by the county executive.
Earlier this year, the County Council's Spending Affordability Committee recommended limiting budget growth to 3 percent or about $47 million.
The county executive said the focus remains on core government operations, including education and public safety.
Approximately 52 cents of every county dollar goes to education this year.
Included in that budget is an additional 124 teaching positions. Kamenetz praised outgoing Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston for eliminating 50 non-classroom jobs while adding the new teachers.
Last year, the system eliminated nearly 200 teacher positions through attrition.
Hairston, in an interview after Kamenetz's speech, said many of the new positions will go to high schools for Chinese language instructors as well as science and math. Additional special education teachers will also be hired.
Kamenetz's budget also includes $149 million in capital budget projects for the school system—a 36 percent increase over last year.
Bond money for school projects makes up nearly 60 percent of the county executive's total request this year. If approved, that request will go before voters in November.
Kamenetz also earmarked more than $74 million for the construction of a 200-seat addition to Sparks Elementary school, the construction of a new 700-seat elementary school in Mays Chapel and another elementary school in the northwest area of the county, as well as an addition and renovation of Hereford High School.
Ten schools will receive air conditioning including:
- Catonsville Elementary
- Fort Garrison Elementary
- Sudbrook Magnet Middle
- Timonium Elementary
- Franklin Elementary
- Hebbville Elementary
- Woodmoor Elementary
- Middleborough Elementary
- Hereford High School (part of renovations)
- Stoneleigh Elementary (part of renovations)
State Comptroller Peter Franchot praised Kamenetz for moving ahead with air conditioning for the ten schools.
"Sweltering classrooms compromise the safety of our students, teachers and support staff, diminish school morale, and erode the quality of the learning experience for everyone," said Franchot. "The county executive deserves credit for making this investment in climate control, particularly in light of the ongoing fiscal challenges that continue to face Baltimore County as a result of the sluggish economy. I am optimistic that he will continue to take steps in future years to address the conditions of those schools in Baltimore County that remain without air conditioning."
Kamenetz will also spend about $73 million on new equipment for the county including:
- $13 million for new breathing apparatus, 21 medic units and two ladder trucks for the fire department.
- $26 million for heavy equipment for the Department of Public Works' Bureau of Solid Waste, Bureau of Utilities and snow removal operations.
- $34 million for new technology and equipment