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The FY2019 Budget Bolsters The Plan Schuh Set In Motion Four Years Ago

Zach Sparks
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May 15, 2018

When County Executive Steve Schuh shared his Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal on May 1, he had one of his last major opportunities to leave a lasting mark on Anne Arundel County prior to November’s general election.

Schuh’s $1.59 billion operating budget and $1.57 billion capital budget requests, subject to county council approval, outlined a familiar message: a property tax cut, raises for employees in education and public safety, and strides toward a better quality of life.

Taxes

In Schuh’s first year in office, he tried to pass a property tax cut and ultimately settled for an income tax cut after getting some pushback from the county council.

Schuh explained his preference by saying that property tax cuts disproportionately benefit people on fixed incomes, like the elderly, while income tax cuts disproportionately benefit wage earners.

“Wage earners need tax relief too, and most of them are property tax payers, most of them own property,” Schuh said, “but given the relative impact of the two, our administration felt strongly that the tax cut should have come from the property rate tax.”

Now in year four of his administration, he hopes to see the implementation of the tax cut he sought all along.

Under his $1.5 million proposal, homeowners would see their property tax rate lowered to $0.902 per $100 of assessment. The current rate is $0.907, although it’s set to drop to $0.904.

The savings would be modest. Based on the current assessed value, a taxpayer with a $200,000 home would save about $10 while the owner of a $600,000 home would save about $30.

Due to a law sponsored by Councilman Jerry Walker and passed in November, public safety employees who reside in Anne Arundel County are eligible for a $2,500 credit on their property taxes in addition to the proposed cut.

When that bill was passed, the council also adopted a resolution supporting a decrease of the property tax rate, because everyone outside of public safety would have been forced to make up the difference in revenue.

Councilman Derek Fink sponsored that resolution.

“I didn’t want us to pick winners and losers,” Fink said. “I’m excited to give public safety a tax credit, which I think we all agreed they deserved, but I didn’t want to raise anyone else’s taxes.”

Education

Of the $684 million going toward education, $21.2 million will accommodate step increases for teachers, who could see two raises, one effective July 1 and another slated for January 1, 2019.

Nearly $4.5 million would fund the remaining construction of High Point Elementary. The budget also provides funding for 80 positions, from teachers to school psychologists, in an effort to reduce classroom size and address increased workloads.

In a statement, Board of Education President Julie Hummer said, “As a parent, I am alarmed by the lack of classroom resources contained in this plan.”

Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County President Richard Benfer took issue with teacher compensation – saying other county employees have received bigger raises – and class sizes.

“AACPS is expecting an increase of 1,700 new students in FY2019, to leave the school system with 3,200 students [more] than it had in FY2017,” Benfer wrote. “In Mr. Schuh’s recommended FY2019 budget, there is funding for 50 classroom positions to address unacceptable class sizes. Fifty new teachers for 3,200 [students] translates to a 64:1 student-to-teacher ratio that is destined to generate larger - not smaller - class sizes.”

Fink said education is always a major priority and that was reflected in this budget.

“The Board of Education is in a situation where they’re only worried about education, and we have to make that difficult decision,” Fink said. “Teachers getting two step increases in one year is significant. The county adding 50 teachers in one year is significant. Is it going to fix the issues of overcrowding in schools? It’s not going to fix it, but it’s a down payment, it’s a start to moving forward.”

Regardless of class size, each school needs to be kept safe. As announced in March, $14.8 million will be earmarked for improvements to school safety.

“That’s school resource officers as well as physical security: double-door systems, cameras, internal doors that are lockable, these fancy shields and a number of other things, so it’s quite a step forward in terms of school safety,” Schuh said. “I think what we’re doing in Anne Arundel County is far beyond what the rest of the state is doing and around the country.”

Public Safety

If Schuh’s budget is approved, 38 new public safety positions will come in the form of 10 police officers, 10 school resource officers, 10 firefighters, three employees for the State’s Attorney’s Office, and a few other personnel.

The county executive also plans to give police an average pay increase of 15 percent over the next two years. Salaries for new officers will rise from $46,850 to $51,500 to help the county attract more officers.

“It has become very clear that our levels of compensation are not adequate to attract the people that we need,” Schuh said.

As for capital projects, about $ 5.65 million is reserved for construction of a new Jacobsville Fire Station.

Roads

According to Owen McEvoy, a public information officer for Schuh, the county spent about $17 million annually on roads prior to the current administration. Schuh bumped that amount to $26 million two years ago, but those funds were only enough to get the roads to stasis, or the level required to maintain the system so that it doesn’t deteriorate further.

In the FY2019 budget, Schuh has allocated $30 million for roads, which will help with a maintenance backlog of about $120 million, which doesn’t include state roads like Ritchie Highway, because those are maintained by the Maryland State Highway Administration.

“It doesn’t get better, but it doesn’t get worse,” Schuh said. “That’s where we have been for a couple of years, but in this budget we are going to go to the next level where we are budgeting enough to improve the system.”

One of those improvements includes $264,000 to finish the widening of Catherine Avenue between 228th Street and 231st Street. As for improvements to Mountain Road, Schuh plans to allot $3,525 for land acquisition in 2020 and $15,768 for construction in 2021.

According to Schuh, the plan for Mountain Road is to widen a stretch from Edwin Raynor Boulevard to Catherine Avenue.

“There will be a grass median with beautiful trees, proper shoulders, bike lane, curbs and sidewalk with ornamental lighting all the way down Mountain Road,” Schuh said. “It’s going to be utterly transformed.”

Quality Of Life And Recreation

The Earleigh Heights ranger station is set to get a $900,000 makeover, and 2019 will mark the first phase of a $2.1 million, multi-year investment to repave the B&A Trail.

At Downs Park, $250,000 is slated for resurfacing of parking lots, roads and trails, and another $549,000 will go toward the amphitheater. Fort Smallwood gets $362,000 for design and construction of a beach parking area, restrooms, a storm shelter, a new maintenance building, and roads and parking for the Weinberg Park Nature Center.

Also vital to a person’s quality of life is personal health. A $2 million investment for University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC) — $500,000 per year for four years — will allow the facility to expand the number of inpatient psychiatric beds for residents suffering from mental health and addiction issues.

Council Approval

In summarizing his budget address and his tenure as county executive, Schuh said he felt he had made good on his promises.

“Our administration wakes up every morning with one overarching goal: to not screw it up … and to pursue policies and programs that will allow the county's positive momentum to continue moving us in the direction of statewide leadership,” Schuh said. “And I believe, thanks to the support of the council, we have done so.”

 

The county council will have until mid June to deliberate on the budget, which will go into effect July 1.


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