Now that taxes are going up in Baltimore County, the pressure is on County Executive Johnny Olszewski to show people they are getting their money’s worth.
That’s on Olszewski’s agenda, as well as presenting controversial affordable housing voucher legislation to the County Council.
Olszewski was in the center of a line of officials late last week, wearing their hard hats and shoveling some dirt for the ceremonial ground breaking of a new Colgate Elementary School in Dundalk. Look for more of these events in the days ahead, as the county executive makes his case that raising the income tax rate, as well as taxing cell phone accounts and charging developers impact fees will pay off.
“People are going to see more school teachers,” Olszewski said. “Teachers are going to see a pay increase. Police officers are going to see a pay increase. Our residents are going to see a record number of roads being paved. They’re going to see increased traffic calming.”
John Dedie, the political science program coordinator at the Community College of Baltimore County, said when you raise taxes, you have to show “short term bang for the buck.”
“If over the next three years the county is flourishing in money, they’re not cutting back on services, he’ll be fine if he looks to running for reelection or even a possible gubernatorial candidate,” Dedie said.
Though Kamenetz, like Olszewski, was a Democrat, Republican Councilman David Marks said the current executive was easier to work with during the just-completed budget process.
“He told the Republicans that even if we parted ways there would not be a personal vendetta against us,” Marks said. The county executive has tremendous power and I don’t think he’s going to retaliate against anyone who disagreed with him.”
But while raising taxes may be in his rear view mirror, another controversial issue is on the horizon for Olszewski.
It’s part of a 2016 settlement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development providing more affordable housing in the county. The settlement requires Olszewski to submit legislation this year that would prohibit landlords from rejecting tenants because they use housing vouchers, commonly known as section 8, for payment.
When then-County Executive Kevin Kamenetz submitted the voucher legislation three years ago, the council voted it down 6-1. Olszewski said in the next couple of weeks, he will start talking to people with skin in the game on this, including landlords, to try to come up with legislation that could pass this time around.
“Failure to have any sort of protection on the books is a failure to serve our residents” Olszewski said. “It’s a failure to provide affordable housing. And it’s a failure to grow our county.”
Opponents of the legislation say it should be up to landlords to decide whether they will accept the vouchers.
Democratic County Council Chairman Tom Quirk voted against the voucher legislation in 2016. Despite that lopsided vote, Quirk said the outcome could be different this year because Kamenetz did not push the council for the legislation while Olszewski will. He gave it his full support during last fall’s election.
“I think we’ll see a different tone with County Executive Olszewski,” Quirk said. “Maybe there’s some common ground where we can advance the ball a little farther up the field. I’m always keeping an open mind to see different ideas out there.”
Meantime, Olszewski said he has a transition plan with around 200 recommendations that his administration will start working through. For example, he soon hopes to hire a sustainability coordinator to oversee the county’s response to climate change.