Owens seeks $1.37 billion budget

$62 million increase proposed

plans include cut in property tax rate, 6% pay raise for teachers

May 02, 2006|By PHILLIP MCGOWAN | PHILLIP MCGOWAN,SUN REPORTER

Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens proposed yesterday a $1.37 billion budget for fiscal 2007 that would fund a 6 percent raise for teachers, cut the property tax rate and expand roads, mass transit and schools in preparation for an expected job boom at Fort Meade.

In her eighth and final State of the County address, Owens also capitalized on a record surplus and a rise in state funding to expand on previous commitments, setting aside millions to preserve rural land, hire teachers and improve public safety.

"I asked everyone to be dreamers and work together to make this county the best in Maryland," Owens told more than 200 elected officials, county employees and residents who had gathered in Annapolis. "I asked that we take responsibility for future generations. Our county has prospered with the course we have charted."

Several County Council members supported the budget - which exceeds last year's by $62 million - and Owens' willingness to pour money into projects such as firehouses in Marley Neck and on the Annapolis Neck.

"The good news is there's been speculation of a strong financial outlook, and it turns out to be better than expected," said Councilman Bill D. Burlison, an Odenton Democrat, who called the budget "very attractive and positive."

The council can subtract from but not add to the proposed $1.16 billion operating and $202.9 million capital spending plans. It must approve a budget by the end of the month.

Owens proposed cutting the property tax rate from 93.1 cents to 91.8 cents per $1,000 of assessed value as a way of countering rising property assessments. Even with the rate cut, homeowners would get bigger tax bills.

Owens set the tone for her speech by announcing that she would fully fund the Board of Education's request for a 6 percent raises for teachers.

She also approved hiring 191 teachers and 50 aides to reduce workloads as part of $516.5 million in proposed education spending, 8.2 percent more than in this year's budget.

Owens also earned cheers for funding nearly $8 million to complete construction of Gambrills Area Elementary School and science labs at Arundel High School.

She also set aside $50.5 million to cover rising construction costs at Tracey's, Pasadena, Gambrills and Lake Shore elementary schools, Arundel High School and Severna Park Middle School.

"I'm very excited about the budget," school board President Konrad Wayson said after the budget address. "I couldn't have asked for any more."

Owens also directed resources toward the expansion at Fort Meade, which is expected to gain at least 25,000 jobs over the next decade. She earmarked $4.5 million to study the widening of Route 198 between Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 32, $350,000 for improvements at the Odenton MARC station and funding for a police substation in Laurel.

To entice defense workers from Northern Virginia to move their families to Anne Arundel, she funded a new International Baccalaureate program at Meade High School and set aside $200,000 for planning a science-and-math magnet program there.

Owens asked the school board yesterday to "designate this magnet school a top priority and to take every step to make it a reality this year."

Wayson said after Owens' speech that a magnet program is needed at Meade. But if it does get that program, he said, the IB program approved for Meade by the school board late last year should shift to North County High.

Owens, who is considering a run for Congress or state comptroller, has also proposed money to preserve 53 acres of waterfront property in Shady Side and 75 acres on the Annapolis Neck.

In addition, she proposed funds for a new psychiatric unit at the Jennifer Road Detention Center and 24-hour police patrols in parts of South County.

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

Highlights

Highlights of Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens' $202.9 million capital budget include:

$21 million for road maintenance

$13 million for county schools' textbook program

$13 million for county schools' building maintenance backlog

$12.9 million for science labs and addition at Arundel High

$10 million for all-day kindergarten and pre-K programs

$7.5 million for replacement of the Marley Neck Fire Station and construction of the Annapolis Neck Fire Station

$4.5 million to study widening Route 198

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