The Baltimore County Council yesterday adopted a $1.45 billion budget and approved raises for police officers, firefighters, teachers - and for members of the council.
The council unanimously adopted County Executive James T. Smith Jr.'s proposed budget largely unchanged, approving a spending plan that does not alter the county's property or income tax rates. But two council members, chairman Joseph Bartenfelder and John Olszewski Sr., voted against raising the salaries of county employees because, they said later, they oppose increasing council members' salaries from $45,000 to $54,000 a year.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about the Baltimore County Council's approving the county budget included an incorrect description of a bill. The bill, which was opposed by Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder and John Olszewski Sr. because it included raises for council members, also provided for raises for some -- but not all -- county employees. Raises for other county employees were in another bill. The Sun regrets the errors.
The overall budget approved by the council is a $2.35 billion spending plan, when such sources as federal and state funding are added to county money.
Although the legislation included sizable raises for some of Smith's top staff members - including a 21 percent increase for a senior aide and a 20 percent raise for the county's administrative officer - Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, said his no vote "had to do strictly with the council raises."
The raises are for the salaries that will be earned by council members who win seats in next year's election.
Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, said the council raises should not have been included in the bill that also provides 3 percent raises for all county employees, in addition to step and longevity increases, 4 percent raises for teachers and librarians, 4.5 percent raises for police officers and 3.5 percent raises for firefighters.
In general, though, Bartenfelder presented a positive review of the county's finances during his budget message yesterday, describing Smith's budget as "fiscally prudent."
The county property tax rate will remain $1.115 per $100 of assessed value, meaning the owner of a house valued at $250,000 would pay just under $2,800 in annual county property taxes.
The council also approved a $471 million capital budget that provides money for a new elementary school in the White Marsh area, a new library in Perry Hall, a fire station in northern Baltimore County and a police station in Pikesville.
During the budget process, council members trimmed about $13.7 million from Smith's proposed budget. In the printed budget message released yesterday, council members asked county officials not to spend the $2.5 million set aside for a combination ice rink and soccer and lacrosse facility at Reisterstown Regional Park until they provide more information about it.
The council also asked that the county's administrative officer establish a policy on how much money the county will spend and how involved it will be in local festivals.
The county's department of recreation and parks spent $17,500 on a waterfront festival last year, the Office of Fair Practices helped pay for an African-American heritage festival, and the county's administrative office helped pay for a German festival, said Councilman Kevin Kamenetz.
"We requested a written policy and that a single department be in charge of it," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat.