May 23, 2018
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  • Since his inauguration in 2014, County Executive Steve Schuh has used the budget to prioritize tax cuts, public safety and education.
    Since his inauguration in 2014, County Executive Steve Schuh has used the budget to prioritize tax cuts, public safety and education.

The FY2019 Budget Bolsters The Plan Schuh Set In Motion Four Years Ago

Zach Sparks
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May 2, 2018

When County Executive Steve Schuh addressed a crowd at the Arundel Center on May 1 to announce his $1.59 billion budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, he outlined a familiar message: a property tax cut, raises for employees in education and public safety, and strides toward a better quality of life.

Taxes

In Schuh’s first year in office, he tried to pass a property tax cut and ultimately settled for an income tax cut after getting some pushback from the county council.

Schuh explained his preference by saying that property tax cuts disproportionately benefit people on fixed incomes, like the elderly, while income tax cuts disproportionately benefit wage earners.

“Wage earners need tax relief too, and most of them are property tax payers, most of them own property,” Schuh said, “but given the relative impact of the two, our administration felt strongly that the tax cut should have come from the property rate tax.”

Now in year four of his administration, he hopes to see the implementation of the tax cut he sought all along.

Under his $1.5 million proposal, homeowners would see their property tax rate lowered to $0.902 per $100 of assessment. The current rate is $0.907, although it’s set to drop to $0.904.

The savings would be modest. Based on the current assessed value, a taxpayer with a $200,000 home would save about $10 while the owner of a $600,000 home would save about $30.

Public safety employees who reside in Anne Arundel County would be eligible for a $2,500 credit on their property taxes in addition to the proposed cut.

“A firefighter, sheriff’s deputy or a jail officer who has a home in Anne Arundel County up to about $275,000 will owe no property tax at all and above $275,000 will enjoy a $2,500 reduction,” Schuh said. “This will be the fourth year in a row of reduction in property tax rates in Anne Arundel County.”

Councilman Michael Peroutka agrees with cutting taxes, but he expressed reservations about giving special breaks to certain groups of people, in this case public safety officials.

“I appreciate and support the county executive’s proposed tax cut,” Peroutka said. “It’s consistent with, what I feel, is my constituents’ view to see less taxes and more limited government. I fully support reducing taxes on all property owners, but I still reserve a concern regarding the constitutionality of tax rates based on class of persons rather than property.”

Peroutka emphasized, “If there’s a message I’ve heard at people’s front doors — at people’s stoops, if you will — it’s, ‘Please reduce the taxes.’”

Education

Of the $684 million going toward education, $21.2 million will accommodate step increases for teachers, who will see two raises, one effective July 1 and another slated for January 1, 2019.

The budget also provides funding for 80 positions, from teachers to school psychologists, in an effort to reduce classroom size and address increased workloads.

In a statement, Board of Education President Julie Hummer said it's not enough.

“As a parent, I am alarmed by the lack of classroom resources contained in this plan,” Hummer said. “Our schools won’t see a decrease in class sizes, they will see an increase due to the 1,700 students we are expected to add next year. This proposal doesn’t help classrooms in crisis, as Mr. Schuh claims. Instead, it threatens to create a school system in crisis.”

As announced in March, $14.8 million will be earmarked for improvements to school safety.

“That’s school resource officers as well as physical security: double-door systems, cameras, internal doors that are lockable, these fancy shields and a number of other things, so it’s quite a step forward in terms of school safety,” Schuh said. “I think what we’re doing in Anne Arundel County is far beyond what the rest of the state is doing and around the country.”

Public Safety

If Schuh’s budget is approved, 38 new public safety positions will come in the form of 10 police officers, 10 school resource officers, 10 firefighters and a handful of employees for the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Anne Arundel County Sherriff’s Office.

The county executive also plans to give police an average pay increase of 15 percent over the next two years. Salaries for new officers will rise from $46,850 to $51,500 to help the county attract more officers.

“It has become very clear that our levels of compensation are not adequate to attract the people that we need,” Schuh said. “With the council’s support, we’ve been adding a lot of police positions to the payroll, but we’re having trouble filling those positions.”

The county is also looking to strike a deal that would provide compensation increases for firefighters, although terms are likely to go to arbitration according to Owen McEvoy, a public information officer for Schuh.

Roads

According to McEvoy, the county spent about $17 million annually on roads prior to the current administration. Schuh bumped that amount to $26 million two years ago, but those funds were only enough to get the roads to stasis, or the level required to maintain the system so that it doesn’t deteriorate further.

“Anne Arundel County has never, since the establishment of charter government in the ‘60s, spent enough money on road maintenance to actually maintain the roads,” Schuh said. “For the entire history of Anne Arundel County as a charter county, the roads have been in a constant state of deterioration because road maintenance was never made a significant enough priority.”

In the FY2019 budget, Schuh has allocated $30 million for roads, which will help with a maintenance backlog of about $120 million, which doesn’t include state roads like Ritchie Highway, because those are maintained by the Maryland State Highway Administration.

“It doesn’t get better, but it doesn’t get worse,” Schuh said. “That’s where we have been for a couple of years, but in this budget we are going to go to the next level where we are budgeting enough to improve the system.”

Recreation

The Earleigh Heights ranger station is set to get a $900,000 makeover, and 2019 will mark the first phase of a $2.1 million, multi-year investment to repave the B&A Trail.

In Edgewater, Beverly Triton Beach Park will get hiking trails, picnic tables and pavilions, bathroom facilities and parking spaces — yet it won’t be quite the gathering place that Kinder Farm Park is. Schuh cited “understandable community concerns about traffic and environmental impact” as the impetus for compromise.

“It will still be a natural park,” Schuh said. “It will be a place where people can go to hike, sit on the beach, have a picnic, take a walk, bird watch. It’s not going to be a place where people go to watch football or swim. There will be a kayak launch, but there will not be any major boat facilities.”

Quality Of Life

As part of its $250 million, six-year waterway improvement plan, Schuh’s administration has proposed $7.9 million to improve the South River watershed.

Also vital to a person’s quality of life is personal health. A $2 million investment for University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center (UM BWMC) — $500,000 per year for four years — will allow the facility to expand its services for residents suffering from mental health and addiction issues.

In a statement, Karen E. Olscamp, president and chief executive officer at UM BWMC, said she was grateful to Schuh for recognizing the need for additional resources.

“This funding will allow us to expand the number of inpatient psychiatric beds, ensuring that more patients and families have access to much-needed care close to home,” Olscamp said.

 

The county council will have until Thursday, June 14, to deliberate on the budget. County residents can attend one of two public hearings: On May 10, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at the Arundel Center (44 Calvert Street in Annapolis) or May 14, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at North County High School (10 East 1st Avenue). The budget will go into effect July 1.


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