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Baltimore County Councilman Says "Everything Should Be On The Table" When Debating Budget

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Baltimore County
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Baltimore County should consider both spending less on schools than is being proposed by County Executive Johnny Olszewski, and cutting scheduled pay raises for its employees, because of the county’s cratering budget.

That’s according to a key member of the Baltimore County Council.

Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk, chairman of the spending affordability committee, said projections show a revenue shortfall of as much as $200 million for the county for the next fiscal year. Tax collections are taking a major hit because of COVID-19.

In a letter he sent to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Quirk said, “It is reasonable to expect income tax withholdings growth to plummet.”

More than 50,000 people have applied for unemployment in Baltimore County since the beginning of the pandemic.

To deal with the expected loss of revenue, Quirk said everything needs to be on the table. That includes possibly cutting up to $20 million from Olszewski’s proposed school budget.

“Obviously nobody, and I mean no one wants to cut money for schools,” Quirk said in an interview with WYPR. “But the fact of the matter is our revenues are going to have a pretty significant shortfall, so we have to take a look at everything.”

When Olszewski presented his proposed budget to the county council earlier this month, it included $20 million for schools above last year’s spending. Localities are required by state law to spend at least as much on education from one year to the next.

Quirk said they also need to talk to the labor unions about possibly giving up pay raises county employees are slated to receive later this year.

“I’m certain that labor, working together with the county, would prefer to protect jobs, and if push came to shove delay cost of living adjustments,” Quirk said. “At some point we have to make tough decisions because otherwise the county might be forced to furlough or even to terminate different jobs.”

Earlier this month, Olszewski announced a hiring freeze for nonessential county employees. He said at the time that protecting local government jobs is a top priority.

In Quirk’s letter to Olszewski, he said since Olszewski presented his budget to the county council April 14, the fiscal situation has continued to evolve.

“We now have a clearer picture of the extent of the economic impact of the pandemic,” Quirk wrote.

In a statement to WYPR, Olszewski said, “Councilman Quirk offers tremendous expertise and insight on fiscal matters, and we will carefully review the spending affordability committee’s new analysis. My proposed budget included a revenue write down of $40 million and made clear that an additional write down may be necessary during this budget process."

The Baltimore County Council is expected to approve Olszewski's budget May 21. The council can only cut his proposed budget. It cannot increase it.

The Baltimore County Council holds an online public hearing on the budget Tuesday at 6 pm. You can find a link to that on the county council’s website.