Baltimore Co.'s $1.3 billion budget keeps tax rates steady for the year

Council adopts plan including workers' raises

May 28, 2004|By Andrew A. Green | Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County Council formally adopted a $1.3 billion budget for fiscal 2005 yesterday, praising the county executive for providing government employees with their first raises in three years while keeping tax rates steady and preparing for potential cuts in state aid.

The council trimmed $1.1 million from County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s proposal, about 40 percent of which was to correct an accounting error.

The council's budget message traditionally includes a section in which members question spending practices of county departments.

But most of the items this year were simply requests to be kept informed about developments such as aid to Tropical Storm Isabel victims and the completion of the detention center expansion in Towson.

"That was about as smooth a budget adoption as I've seen," said Michael K. Day Sr., president of the local firefighters union who has watched county budgets for more than a decade.

Smith's plan will spend most of the projected revenue increases for fiscal 2005, which begins July 1, on cost-of-living raises for county employees.

In addition to longevity and step increases, teachers get an average 4 percent raise, general government employees get 2.25 percent, and police and firefighters get flat raises of $2,500 and $2,300, respectively.

Union leaders praised the salary increases, saying they're necessary to recruit and retain top-quality workers.

"This is a first step," said Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "Our system cannot handle the constant turnover of teachers."

Tax rates remain generally unchanged for the coming fiscal year. The property tax rate is the same at $1.115 per $100 of assessed value, and the piggyback income tax rate is the same at 2.83 percent.

The only increased tax for fiscal 2005 is an additional 25 cents per month on each telephone line, residential and commercial, which will pay for 911 technology that enables operators to pinpoint the location of callers on cellular phones.

The only significant program Smith initiated with the budget is the creation of a school to help foster children and those who live in group homes to make a smooth transition to county schools.

The $1.6 million program will pay for developing personalized academic, behavioral and therapeutic plans, if necessary, for the students.

Council members made no cuts to the budgets for education, police, recreation and parks, and the community colleges.

The executive's fiscal conservatism will help prepare the county for any cuts or costs the state government passes on next year to solve its budget problems, said Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley, a Catonsville Democrat.

Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall-Towson Democrat, called the spending plan "the best budget that's been put together in my 14 years here."

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