Baltimore County executive unveils 2011 budget

$1.6 billion proposal would cut spending by 4 percent

April 15, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. unveiled a budget Thursday that he said would cut spending by 4 percent but fund current services while reining in property taxes and avoiding an income tax increase.

"This is a maintenance budget that is responsive to these perilous economic times," Smith said. The $1.6 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would keep the cap on home assessment increases at 4 percent, which Smith said would save owners about $172 million on their property tax bills.

Under a series of agreements with unions representing public safety and other workers, the county's 8,000 employees will not face layoffs or furloughs. Smith said his proposal, which the council will review for the next several weeks, creates "a healthy fund balance in anticipation of a continued flat economy."

"Good leadership means when you leave, you leave the budget in good shape," said Smith, who is nearing the end of his second and last term. "This puts everything into a realistic context and bodes well for the future of Baltimore County."

The budget also includes what Smith said were the fewest capital projects in several years. Many such projects have been postponed "because of the fiscal realities in which we live." Those delays helped the county to address an estimated $164 million revenue shortfall for this year.

Members of the county council said the proposal leaves little room for more cuts.

"Smith has always been prudent, fiscally," said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, the lone Republican on the seven-member panel. "I anticipate this budget will be even leaner and we won't find many places to cut."

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, who is expected to run for county executive, congratulated Smith for maintaining the Board of Education's $661 million operating budget and continuing several school construction and renovation projects.

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, who also is expected to run for the office Smith leaves in December, said the proposal "ensures us a cushion to comfort us in future years."

Newly negotiated union contracts will also fill in the budget gap and will save the county about $16 million in 2011 and as much as $25 million annually in the next several years. Unions representing the county's 8,000 workers agreed to forego cost-of-living raises for the next two years and contribute more to pensions in exchange for job security.

Many departments have trimmed costs that have saved another $4 million, officials said.

"Wise fiscal decisions throughout the years allowed us to balance the budget this year and to continue with the things that are important to the residents of Baltimore County," council Chairman John Olszewski said.

Smith called it "a sound budget that will handle 2011 and beyond. We have looked up and down the road with a solid fiscal vision."

A public hearing on the proposal is set for 7 p.m. April 27 in council chambers at the Old Courthouse. May 27 has been scheduled as the tentative adoption date.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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