Baltimore County's tax rate would drop two cents and 220 new teaching positions would keep county class sizes constant even though county schools got only half the increase they sought under the $1.135 billion budget Executive Roger B. Hayden presented today.
In his county operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, Hayden proposed only $10.6 million more spending in locally raised money, a meager 1.25 percent increase. County Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley noted that the increase falls below even the 2 percent cap on property tax revenues that county voters rejected as too restrictive in a referendum last November.
Despite the proposed cut of 2 cents off the current property tax rate of $2.895 per $100 of assessed value, the average county taxpayer would fork over $27 more under Hayden's proposal, due to assessment increases. On top of that, Hayden's plan also includes an average yearly increase of $16.63 on sewer service charges, and parking fine increases of $3 to $4 per ticket, depending on the violation. Hayden also proposed increasing the franchise fee Comcast Cable Television pays the county, to raise another $1.4 million.
County employees face no layoffs, but would get no across-the-board pay raises either in the coming fiscal year. Some would receive longevity increases.
The council members all expressed their admiration for Hayden's efforts, although Don Mason, D-7th, a Dundalk councilman who ran on a platform to cut government, repeated his belief that the tax rate should fall to $2.77 next year to neutralize assessment increases. Hayden did ask the council to keep the 4 percent cap on property tax assessments in place to minimize increases.
"I'm absolutely delighted," Riley said of the tight budget request. "I do not intend to nitpick my way through it" in his role as a budget cutter, he said. The council may cut but may not add to the executive's request.
Since the school board had requested a $51 million spending increase for next year, much of the cutting came from its request. Hayden's proposal grants the schools an increase of $25.4 million. Hayden, a former county school board president, said he did cut nine board administrative positions, while adding three new prekindergarten classes for disadvantaged children.
School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel praised Hayden's budget despite the deep cuts in his large request, saying that education fared better than other county departments. Education would receive 42 percent of county spending next year, a slightly larger slice than the 41.3 percent it got this year.
The council has until June 1 to make any cuts and adopt a new tax rate. It will hold a public hearing on the budget April 23 at 7 p.m. at Loch Raven High School on Cowpens Avenue.