Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski begins his second year in office this week.
Challenges ahead for Olszewski in 2020 include getting state money for the county’s old, crowded schools and dealing with a rising crime rate.
So far this year, there have been 41 murders in Baltimore County, an increase of 37 percent over the same period last year. During the first six months of 2019, the county’s crime rate increased by 4.5 percent.
On a recent tour through the Seven Oaks neighborhood in Perry Hall, Olszewski heard from Jennifer Burke, who says she no longer feels safe.
Burke, speaking with Olszewski on her front porch said, “Our intention was to get out of this area.”
Olszewski replied, “Our hope is that we can keep working with you in the community to turn it around.”
Republican County Councilman David Marks, who represents Perry Hall, said when it comes to crime, Olszewski needs to be very careful.
Marks said, “There’s a real undercurrent of fear in Baltimore County about crime. There are many people who think the city’s problems are seeping into suburban neighborhoods and he has to stay ahead of this.”
Olszewski said he is doing just that.
“We’re going to be aggressively coming out, working with Chief Hyatt, working with our department heads to make any other changes that are necessary to tackle this head on,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski said his administration is taking a closer look at the structure of the police department. There also are several dozen vacancies that need to be filled.
As for education, Olszewski, a Democrat, had a major setback this year. Legislation he pushed for in the Democrat-controlled General Assembly that would have meant $400 million in school construction money for the county died in the senate.
Olszewski said he is optimistic the outcome will be different in 2020 because incoming Senate president Bill Ferguson supports it. Olszewski said a dozen middle and elementary schools could be replaced or renovated if it passes.
“It also tees us up to move more aggressively on our high school challenges,” Olszewski said.
No additional state funding would mean a delay of three years or more in replacing Towson and Dulaney High Schools.
When Olszewski began his four year term last December he inherited a county budget with an $81 million shortfall. He said the previous administration had not been honest about the county’s fiscal situation.
So he held town halls throughout the county, explaining the budget and setting the table for a package of tax increases.
When he talks about his first year, Olszewski ticks off a list of things his administration is doing to make government more transparent, like reforming lobbying requirements and putting on the November 2020 ballot a referendum that would allow the public financing of election campaigns.
Also, he plans to hold another round of public town halls on the budget next year.
Olszewski said, “My goal is that whenever I leave office, it’s become so institutionalized the future executives have no choice but continue on that legacy of being open and transparent about how decisions are made and involving people in the process.”
Marks gives Olszewski a “B” for his first year.
“His best asset is his likability and his transparency and I think he’s done a good job with that,” Marks said.
On the political front, Olszewski is not supporting his former press secretary T.J. Smith in next year’s mayor’s race in Baltimore City. Instead, Olszewski is backing Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young because he says they work well together
“T.J.’s a friend and I wish him well, but at the end of the day I’ve got a good partner and that’s why I made that decision in this race,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski said he likely will not endorse anyone in the 7th congressional district special election to replace Elijah Cummings, who died in October. Olszewski said there are a number of good candidates in that race.