For the first time in the last four years, the county budget got enough bipartisan support for a 6-1 vote on June 14. The $2.1 billion Fiscal Year 2023 (FY2023) budget prioritizes education, funds a new 911 call center, allocates money for a new firing range, offers a modest tax cut and more.
The tax cut will reduce the income tax rate on the first $50,000 of taxable income for every taxpayer while setting the property tax rate further below the cap than ever in county history.
Pasadena Councilman Nathan Volke, who has been critical of previous budgets presented by County Executive Steuart Pittman and his staff, had praise for this budget.
“We have been calling for tax cuts and this budget does that,” Volke said. “We have been calling for the elimination, not creation, of structural deficits; this budget eliminates the structural deficit. We’ve been calling for maximization of our rainy day funds; this budget does that.
“I certainly believe that down the road, we may see some recession or even economic hardships if it’s not exactly a recession, but I think having the rainy day fund at the level that we’ve put it in this budget and with the increase to 7 percent, we’ve really put the county in a good position to be protected in the event there is a downturn,” Volke said.
District 7 Councilwoman Jessica Haire, who is running for county executive, cast the sole vote against the budget.
“I would not sell this budget as a tax cut,” Haire said. “The budget is giving back essentially pennies on the dollar for that was imposed in year one of this administration’s budget. So while I am glad to see money going back, I mean you’re taking $10 out of your left pocket and putting $1 back in your right pocket and saying, ‘I gave you a tax cut.’ That’s not accurate.”
The biggest budget winners may be the students and parents of Anne Arundel County.
The FY2023 budget fully funds the Board of Education’s capital budget request and adds 119 new special education positions, 29 new social/emotional learning positions, 48 new pre-k positions to convert half-day programs to full-day pre-k classrooms, 20 new English language development positions, three new bilingual facilitators and 140 new classroom teacher positions, including the final year of staffing required to fully open Crofton High School.
Through supplemental amendments, the county will also provide funding for hiring and retention bonuses for school bus drivers and crossing guards, as well as one-time pay equity funding for Anne Arundel Community College.
“I’ve been on this council for eight years. I was on the Board of Education, I‘ve been involved probably 20 years in different things, and the capital budget being funded completely, also the amount of teachers being added and staff, I really think it’s going to make a difference for our future,” said Andrew Pruski, District 4 councilmember and council vice chair.
Public safety departments will receive several investments including a new 911 call center, which will combine police and fire call-takers into a single, unified operation under the Office of Emergency Management. The county’s police department will get a new firing range, relocated indoors, a $24.9 million renovation. As Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal Awad explained during a May 4 council meeting, the current firing range is “aged, it’s dilapidated, and quite frankly, it’s a safety hazard.”
Haire supported the 911 call center and maximizing the rainy day fund, but she considered the budget overall to be fiscally irresponsible.
“The Spending Affordability Committee specifically noted its concern that the sort of repeated, large increases in spending year over year is going to drive the need for future taxes and fees in the upcoming years. That’s a huge concern that I share,” Haire said. “They also noted that a lot of the greater-than-anticipated revenues that the county executive and the administration discusses now are from temporary sources, and we need to be very careful about using that in any way to predict future revenue.”
District 5 councilwoman Amanda Fielder was disappointed that some amendments did not get more support, but she was pleased with most items in the budget.
“It is time for our officers to have a safe [firing] range that they can use in all weather, and the joint 911 call center is something that Mr. Pruski and I have stated it is time for Anne Arundel County to move in that direction,” said Fiedler, one of three Republicans on the council. “This is a budget that is more in line with what we’ve been trying to do in the minority party for four years.”
The FY2023 budget includes two new parks — Tanyard Springs and South Shore — alongside investments in Bacon Ridge at Forney, Odenton Library Park, Deale and the new Brooklyn Park Center, plus water access site improvements totaling $7.8 million in investments. The budget also provides $3.5 million to restore a building on the campus of the future Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park, to allow the building to become the Crownsville Health and Wellness Center, an incubator that will house emerging nonprofits, offer services to residents of the treatment centers operating nearby, and be a temporary home for the county team that will manage the restoration of the site.
In a written statement, Pittman thanked the council for their collaboration and a nearly unanimous vote.
“In the midst of partisan conflict in Washington, growing economic hardship across the country, and attacks on the basic institutions of government, here in Anne Arundel County we showed today that our two political parties are able to come together and support a budget that delivers the services that our residents depend on,” Pittman said. “Delivering a bipartisan budget, just three months after receiving our first-ever Triple-A bond rating from Moody’s, sends a strong signal to our residents that we can and will move forward together — united to make our county the best place for all.”