As was the case last year, the Anne Arundel County Council passed the Fiscal Year 2021 budget along party lines, 4-3, on June 12 with Democrats in favor of the legislation and Republicans opposed.
County Executive Steuart Pittman commended the budget for keeping the income tax rate at 2.81% while slightly lowering the property tax rate from 93.5 cents per $100 of assessed value to 93.4 cents.
“When I introduced this budget on May 1, I characterized it as a difficult path through an uncertain time,” Pittman said in a statement. “I’d like to thank the county council, my budget team, and the auditor and her staff for taking that path and making it better. County residents need the support of their local government now more than ever, and thanks to this budget we will deliver.”
The budget came with tough choices thanks to an estimated $63 million revenue shortfall due to the COVID-19 crisis. The final budget includes $1.8 million for body-worn cameras for the Anne Arundel County Police Department. In education, funding will support 57 positions to open Crofton High School, 84 new teaching positions to address enrollment growth, 12 new behavioral health positions, 76 new special education positions and one salary step for educators, in addition to other investments.
The budget also creates the Office of Health Equity and Racial Justice within the county health department to identify health disparities along racial/ethnic, income and geographical lines.
While Severna Park and the Broadneck peninsula will benefit from several items in the budget, Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler voted against it because the council as a whole opted not to adopt several amendments that would have saved the county millions of dollars while still funding both the public schools budget and body cameras for police, she said.
Roughly $2.5 million in additional cuts recommended by the county auditor, who is independent, were not made.
“The budget funds $1,500 bonuses to employees while over 63,000 county residents have lost jobs or paychecks during a global pandemic and economic crisis,” Fiedler said. “While there are many things in this budget I do support, like the Cape St. Claire fire station and the completion of the Broadneck Trail and the body cameras … the unnecessary spending, especially during this unprecedented time, is not fiscally responsible.”
Further debate ensued when Councilman Nathan Volke suggested the councilmembers forgo a pay increase. Democratic members of the council rebuked the idea, noting that the Maryland constitution prevents public officials from passing laws to increase or decrease their pay during their term.
During its deliberations, the county council added $1.5 million of funding for the Board of Education to support community ambassadors, 10 English Language Acquisition teachers and seven transportation positions. The county executive also added funding for a one-time pay package for Anne Arundel Community College employees, at the request of the council.
Although the council’s Republicans did not believe compromise occurred, Council Chair Allison Pickard (District 2) said such negotiations made the budget better.
“I appreciate the compromise and hard work by everyone involved in the budget during these challenging times,” Pickard said in a statement. “I am pleased to see continued investment in school construction, as many projects are long overdue. Police body-worn cameras will bring more transparency to our police operations, and I am hopeful that this is the first step toward reform as we continue discussions on racial equity issues. This budget will play a vital and positive role in our ability to respond to the economic recovery ahead.”