Assembly approves state funding for most of Balto. County's priorities

School construction to receive $15 million more than last year


News from around the Baltimore region

April 14, 2005|By Lisa Goldberg | Lisa Goldberg,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County walked away from this year's General Assembly session with nearly all of its legislative priorities funded or fulfilled - and a rosier forecast for the upcoming budget season, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said yesterday.

The county expects to receive about $25 million from the state for school construction and renovation this year, compared with $10 million allotted last year. And every one of the county's other financial priorities was either fully or partially funded, Smith told state lawmakers from the county at a breakfast meeting.

"There is no question that this session was a successful session for Baltimore County" and for local governments in general, he said.

In a later interview, Smith said the financial picture coming from Annapolis this year is also "much improved." Last year, the executive bemoaned the state's fiscal instability and said it could lead to ruin for some local governments.

The county's budget, scheduled for release this morning, will address "core priorities" such as public safety, education and redevelopment, he said. Based on already negotiated contracts, it is also expected to include cost-of-living raises - across the board - for county employees for a second consecutive year.

"I think everyone is going to be happy with this one," said Smith, who declined to release specifics of the spending plan yesterday.

Under the budget passed by the General Assembly, Baltimore County would receive more than one-third of its school system's $70 million school construction and renovation request.

"The fact they pulled in this portion for us, I think, is significant," said Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston.

The county also is slated to receive money for park projects, including $842,000 for a community center at Tall Trees Park in Essex, $200,000 for cabin renovations at Lillian Holt Park in the Overlea-Fullerton area and $100,000 for planning and design work for a new park in North County.

Requests for $300,000 to expand the trails at Marshy Point Nature Center, $800,000 to renovate fields at two parks and two elementary schools and $2 million for infrastructure improvements for the proposed Towson Circle III project were also approved.

Other priorities listed by Smith at the start of the legislative session, including bills that would allow judges to authorize officers to serve warrants without announcing their presence first and reauthorization of a program that would allow for the rehiring of retired educators, were also approved, the county executive said.

One initiative pushed by Smith failed. After an educator was shot to death at Towson Town Center, Smith voiced his support for a bill that would have added rifles and shotguns to a law that subjects offenders who use a handgun in a violent crime or felony to additional penalties.

Another bill affecting the county - but not included in Smith's priority list - also died. The bill, pushed by county Democratic senators, would have required state Senate confirmation of gubernatorial appointments to the Baltimore County school board.

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