When the Anne Arundel County Council passed County Executive Steuart Pittman’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget by a 4-3 vote on June 14, it continued a trend that started when Pittman took office. Each year, Pittman’s budgets have garnered support from the council’s Democrats while drawing criticism from the council’s Republicans.
While most of that criticism stems from what Republicans call unsustainable growth, Pittman defended the budget as “thoughtful and deliberate.”
“We listened carefully to residents, departments and financial experts, and created a budget that is fiscally responsible and fair,” Pittman said in a statement.
The budget expands the county’s crisis intervention team and constructs new evidence and forensics and special operations facilities. The budget also provides additional staffing support for the fire department, including training 42 new paramedics and funding for the land acquisition for a fire training academy.
In the education sector, the bill adds 53 new positions in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools system while delivering on a full step increase and an $8 million back step investment for teachers.
Parks and recreation were other areas of investment. Initiatives supported in the budget include turning the idea of a county-wide trail network from concept to reality, increasing water access project funding, and taking the next steps with projects like the Brooklyn Park Athletic Complex, the new Deale Community Park, the design of the West County Swim Center, the Severn Center, the Stanton Center and the Brooklyn Park Teen Center.
Councilwoman Jessica Haire said based on the budget recommended by the county’s spending affordability committee, this budget “exceeds that wildly.”
“I can’t support it,” Haire said. “The overall growth of about 18 percent in the last three years to the county budget is just not sustainable.”
Allison Pickard said her colleagues need to focus more on the positives.
“We need to tell the story of how we can now send a firetruck out to a rescue mission with three firefighters instead of two,” Pickard said. “We’re still behind many of our jurisdictions who have four and five firefighters on those trucks … We’re able to tackle school construction at a greater clip, which is greatly appreciated in my area. But we have to talk about the investment.”
Lisa Rodvien challenged her colleagues to find unnecessary projects or positions to cut.
“I would ask my colleagues what exactly would they cut?” Rodvien said. “Would they cut the new community services bureau in our police department? Would they cut the new paramedic training? Would they cut the new four fire stations? Would they cut the two new sheriffs to monitor a growth in our court system?”
District 5 Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler mentioned how 20 amendments were introduced to make cuts and “there was not a single firefighter, teacher or police officer proposed to be cut in this budget.”
“For the third year in a row, the county and the county’s expenses are outpacing revenue,” Fiedler said. “This budget increases and grows government while we are carrying a $20 million structural deficit while going above the constant yield to increase revenue by $8 million.”
The council Democrats argued that the budget keeps the income tax rate the same, lowers property taxes slightly and adds $11 to the rainy day fund, which the council’s Republicans supported.
“I am thrilled that we have been able to come out of a pandemic with such a strong budget,” Rodvien said. “Some of my colleagues have criticized this budget, but we are still the county with the fourth-lowest income tax in the state and the seventh-lowest property tax.
“When I came to office, we had a $2 billion backlog in capital spending in our schools. We have made significant progress in updating our schools and replacing outmoded and crumbling buildings. Investments in resources for our seniors and to improve and expand our public parks and water accesses are part of this budget. This budget makes great strides toward making our county the best place for all.”