$1.37 billion budget OK'd

Teacher raises, road and school improvements, and tax relief are parts of package


The Anne Arundel County Council approved a $1.37 billion budget yesterday that offers teachers a much-anticipated 6 percent raise and contains funds to hire scores of new educators while laying the groundwork to accommodate expansion at Fort Meade.

The Republican-controlled council largely left the final spending package of County Executive Janet S. Owens untouched, saying it reflected the right priorities in terms of education, tax relief and improving roads and schools.

With soaring revenue from the state and the real estate market creating a record county surplus, Owens, a two-term Democrat running for state comptroller, poured more than $202 million into capital projects to build schools, fire stations and roads. In addition, the council, seeking to offset the impact of rising assessments, reduced the property tax rate by 1.3 cents to 91.8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

The county limits annual assessment increases for tax purposes at 2 percent. That means the owner of a home that rose in value from $300,000 last year to $306,000 this year would pay about $16 more.

"We got close to a perfect budget," said County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale, a Severna Park Republican.

Owens said the budget "addresses many of our most critical needs across the county."

But County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis-area Democrat, abstained from the main budget vote after the council removed conditions she had pushed to require a developer and Annapolis to shoulder more of the costs of a road widening.

"I cannot vote for a budget that's wrong," said Samorajczyk, a frequent critic of the Owens administration. She complained about the "the sorry state of affairs [in the handling] of this budget."

Samorajczyk, who is serving her second and final term, walked out and did not return as the remaining council members approved seven other budget bills. She had said she generally supported the budget otherwise. The budget covers the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The council, which received the budget May 1, approved 70 amendments last week covering about $8 million in the budget. Two more were approved yesterday.

After facing previous years of budget shortfalls, council members said they felt confident about the financial state of the county. The budget represents an increase of $62 million over this year's, which, at $1.3 billion, was a record.

"The budget says a lot about the economy and where we are going from here," said County Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Severn Republican.

The budget includes more than $545 million in operating funds and more than $106 million for the county school system. That money will allow for the hiring of 191 teachers and 50 aides to reduce workloads, as well as the 6 percent raises for teachers.

To address rising school construction costs, the council allocated $50.5 million to complete projects at Tracey's, Pasadena, Gambrills and Lake Shore elementary schools, Arundel High School and Severna Park Middle School.

In preparation for an expansion that will add at least 20,000 jobs at Fort Meade over the next six years, Owens and the council 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.

The spending plan also included $200,000 to plan for a proposed math-and-science magnet program at Meade High School, along with funding for a new International Baccalaureate program there.

Last week, the council eliminated nearly $90,000 in proposed raises for senior school administrators. The Board of Education sought $2 million for school security, a request that Owens halved. But the county voted to restore $500,000.

In an unusual move, the members put conditions on how Owens can spend $1.6 million for an addition to the Jessup Fire Station. They tied the release of that funding to a county study that would analyze the demands that an expanded Fort Meade would place on the Fire Department's resources.

Last week, the council also passed an amendment, sponsored by Samorajczyk, that tied $1.9 million for a widening of Forest Drive to an agreement by Annapolis government and a developer to pay part of the cost.

The developers of Kingsport and Village Greens offered $175,000 in road improvements in 2001 in a deal with the county, according to county officials. Anne Arundel planning officials did not let the project proceed because they were planning to conduct a more comprehensive road realignment there, they said.

County officials were concerned that Samorajczyk's amendment could jeopardize the 2001 agreement and place the county in jeopardy of a lawsuit, and Middlebrooks proposed legislation yesterday to kill Samorajczyk's language.

After nearly an hour of deliberation, the council voted 6-1 for Middlebrooks' amendment.phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

County budget

Here are highlights of the Anne Arundel County budget adopted yesterday:

$26 million to fund a 6 percent raise for teachers

The addition of 191 teachers and 50 teachers' aides, along with 34 other county employees

A property tax rate of 91.8 cents per $100 of assessed value, a 1.3-cent drop

$12.9 million for science labs and an addition at Arundel High

$4.5 million to study widening of Route 198

$3.9 million to fully fund the county's Rainy Day Fund at $42.7 million [Source: Anne Arundel County]

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