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  • Before announcing his Fiscal Year 2018 budget, County Executive Steve Schuh unveiled several priorities including a $50,000 grant for the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
    Dylan Roche
    Before announcing his Fiscal Year 2018 budget, County Executive Steve Schuh unveiled several priorities including a $50,000 grant for the YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.
  • The Severna Park Community Center could receive $50,000 for renovations to its pool, which is used by swim teams countywide, as well as by first responders and civilians.
    The Severna Park Community Center could receive $50,000 for renovations to its pool, which is used by swim teams countywide, as well as by first responders and civilians.

Schuh Continues To Chart Conservative Course With FY2018 Budget

Zach Sparks
View Bio
May 3, 2017

If you follow county government and the actions of County Executive Steve Schuh, the components of Schuh’s five-point plan have become as familiar to you as your social security number or the lyrics to your favorite karaoke song.

Those five priorities were highlighted yet again as Schuh announced his $1.5 billion Fiscal Year 2018 (FY2018) budget proposal on May 1, which continued to address issues he has championed since his campaign for county executive three years ago.

“The first year of an administration has a vision,” Schuh said. “It’s the first year that establishes the direction. So all of the five priorities I mentioned were put in place on day one. So year one is getting everything off the ground, year two is gaining altitude, year three is cruising at 30,000 feet. So we are now at full altitude and in full implementation.”

So, what does full altitude look like in the form of a budgetary forecast for Anne Arundel County? The short answer: more tax cuts, increased education spending, and a commitment to public safety and quality-of-life endeavors. All items are pending county council approval.

Uprooting Fees

Following an income tax cut in year one and the largest fee cut in county history in year two (reducing water and sewer connection fees), Schuh’s third budget aims to eliminate three tax categories.

By cutting the “amusement tax,” Schuh expects that the average person will save $1 during each visit to a local movie theater. Anne Arundel County residents will save an estimated $36 per year with the removal of a fee currently charged when people rent athletic facilities. If Schuh’s budget stays intact, mobile home owners can save $300 thanks to another cut.

Overall, the changes are projected to save taxpayers $3.3 million.

“The county executive views these fees as having a negative impact on the quality of life for Anne Arundel County citizens, and he continues to look for any unnecessary tax or fee that he can eliminate,” said Owen McEvoy, a public information officer for Schuh.

Averting An Educational Crisis

At $682 million, Schuh has funded education at $20 million above the required maintenance-of-effort level. “It’s the largest increase over maintenance-of-effort levels in eight years,” McEvoy said.

On April 27, Schuh revealed that $15.5 million would be earmarked for compensation increases, or step increases, requested by the board of education. Schuh also recommended that $7.5 million be used for one-time payments to offset increases in employee health insurance premiums for the county’s nearly 6,000 teachers and other school system employees.

“For far too long, our teachers have viewed county government with suspicion and scorn,” Schuh in an announcement. “This funding proposal works to regain their trust and ensure that we continue to retain top-notch educators.”

Other highlights include $41 million for Arnold Elementary construction and approximately $100 million for a health, science and biology building at Anne Arundel Community College that is used to train health care professionals. Schuh also reinforced plans to break ground on Crofton High School and split Old Mill into separate campuses with two high schools and two middle schools.

Pumping Up Public Safety

Schuh is advocating 38 new positions in the public safety sector: 21 police positions, 14 firefighters, two employees in the State’s Attorney’s Office and one sheriff’s deputy. While adding to personnel, he also plans to replace outdated police vehicles.

“When we came into office, the fleet was approaching six years. Six years is ancient for a police car,” Schuh said. “That’s where the average age was and now it’s approaching three, which is our goal.”

The budget continues to fund the construction of a new police academy and central booking facility.

In a related realm of protecting victims of domestic violence, Schuh held a press conference on April 18 as he announced a $150,000 capital grant for YWCA of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. The Arnold-based nonprofit is building a 7,000-square-foot domestic violence shelter with capacity for up to 32 women and children.

Recreation and Parks

Schuh allocated around $40 million for waterway improvements, while Solley Cove in Curtis Bay and Shady Side may receive funding for new boat ramps. “There needs to be some prep work done and it will be a few years before it opens,” McEvoy said of the Solley Cove ramp, “but this is to provide water access to people who don’t live in waterfront communities.”

Schuh wants to invest $36 million in a connected system of bike trails over the next six years. Closer to home, the Severna Park Community Center (SPCC) could receive $50,000 for renovations to its pool.

As SPCC Executive Director Gwen Kenealy explained, the facility’s pool pack is about 13 years old and in need of replacement. “The pool pack helps remove core nutrients from the air so that our swimmers are breathing in healthy air,” Kenealy said.

“With indoor pools, to maintain them, the air quality suffers because it’s very warm and humid,” added Pete Sheldon, president of SPCC’s board of directors.

SPCC asked state and county officials for funds in 2016. They secured $100,000 and matched that amount through fundraising. They need about $450,000 to add to those funds.

Kenealy said the pool pack will go to great use since swim teams countywide use the main pool along with first responders and civilians. Senior citizens depend on the therapy pool. “Because we have so many people using them, it’s critical we keep the pools in top condition,” Sheldon said. “We appreciate any support from the county.”

Schuh also hopes to fund a redesign of a “tournament-level” tennis facility in Millersville. Community concerns encouraged Schuh to accommodate adequate tree buffers and environmental safeguards.

Another emphasis for the administration is empowering citizens to be self-sufficient. “It’s hard to have a really good quality of life if you’re stuck in government dependency,” Schuh said. “We have been working very hard with the departments over the last couple years to do more than just provide government-subsidized housing, or to provide food stamps, or to provide cash benefits. And instead to give people the skills that they need to become independent and self-supporting. And we’re having great success with that. The budget will reflect significant drops in our food stamp enrollment, significant drops in cash benefits and our family stability project initiative in our family housing communities, we’re enrolling record numbers of families in the family stability program, teaching them everything from financial literacy to child care, how to get to transportation, how to hold a job so that they can become independent.”

Schuh called it a dramatic change in the way departments approach the programs.

“These programs can be a helping hand or they can be a trap, and for far too long, they have been a trap for many, many people, not just in Anne Arundel County but throughout the nation,” Schuh said. “We’re trying to chart a different course where we make sure these programs are a helping hand and not a way of life.”

Government Reform and Council Input

Other priorities include setting funds aside for the rainy day fund and initiating land use reform. The Department of Inspections and Permits has been restructured for “better deployment of staff,” according to McEvoy.

The fiscal year in Anne Arundel County runs from July 1 to June 30. If all of this commentary sounds overly positive, that’s because no one voiced criticism for the proposal as of Monday, yet the county council – with feedback from constituents – has six weeks to deliberate.

Although he admits that there is nothing shocking about his budget proposal, Schuh sees members of his administration continuing to chart the course they set upon three years ago.

“It’s not like anything fundamentally new happens in year three,” Schuh said. “It’s a process of bringing all of these priorities established in year one to completion.

“I’m very excited about the budget,” he added. “I’m sure somebody will find something [they don’t like], but I can’t see anything controversial. The council will have their say and they should. But I don’t see any big, hot-button, objectionable issues. It’s a good, solid budget.”

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