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Olszewski says his budget is “record shattering” for education

Olszewski Budget message.JPG
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski presents his budget to the County Council, April 14, 2022. Credit: John Lee

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski presented his proposed $4.8 billion budget Thursday to the county council.

It includes pay raises for educators and county employees, a doubling in the size of the inspector general’s office, and hundreds of positions added to the county workforce.

The county finds itself flush with cash, a combination of a strong economy and federal and state COVID relief dollars. So County Executive Olszewski is able to spread it around.

The county school system has been struggling to hire enough teachers and bus drivers. So to help with that he’s proposing they get a raise. Olszewski said the average county teacher will see a pay increase of 6.5%, or around $4,000. A temporary $2 an hour raise for bus drivers and attendants will be permanent.

“And our kindergarten assistants, paid helpers, lunchroom assistants and additional assistants will all see a 12% increase over the current minimum wage they are paid,” Olszewski said.

Speaking to a crowd of legislators, school officials and department heads in council chambers, Olszewski called his budget “record shattering” for education, with more money for school construction and nearly 530 added positions.

Olszewski said, “Even though enrollment has declined by more than 4,000 students amid the pandemic, we continue our sustained investment in education because we know now more than ever children need smaller class sizes, more social workers and more counselors.”

Olszewski is also again freezing in-county tuition at the Community College of Baltimore County.

County employees will see an average 4.5% pay raise. The county will continue to offer hiring bonuses for police officers.

Also in the budget: a new position of Chief of Homeless Services, more money for affordable housing, free meals for thousands of more children and 1,000 trees to be planted along county streets.

Money is spread around the county for roads and parks.

A controversy that has dogged Olszewski this past year has been his handling of the inspector general’s office, which he created three years ago. His administration has been criticized for trying to rein in Inspector General Kelly Madigan and for keeping her office underfunded. In the budget Olszewski proposes doubling the size of Madigan’s office to six.

In an interview after his speech, Olszewski said he believes in the office’s mission to root out fraud, abuse and waste in county government.

“I was proud to support it,” Olszewski said. “I’ve grown it in every year’s budget, and we have the resources this year to invest in it even more significantly and I'm proud to do so.”

Inspector General Madigan said she’s grateful for the three new positions. She said two of her hires will be investigators.

“And hopefully will translate to more reports which will translate to more accountability and transparency for Baltimore County government,” Madigan said.

There is no talk of a tax increase in Olszewski’s budget. No talk of a tax cut either. Rather than cutting taxes, Olszewski said county residents want the government to spend more on projects in their neighborhoods.

Olszewski said, “This is a budget that’s reflective of what we heard from hundreds of residents as we did town halls throughout the county.”

Republican Councilman David Marks said the votes aren’t there on the Democratically-controlled council for a tax cut. Marks agrees with Olszewski that the county has a lot of needs.

“We have increasing poverty in this county,” Marks said. “We have to be dealing with some of these root causes of strife.”

Olszewski is putting an additional $50 million towards shoring up the county’s retirement fund. Democratic Councilman Tom Quirk warns the cost of living adjustments this year alone add up to around $60 million.

“So $50 million helps and it’s definitely a beginning but we still have a lot more work to do,” Quirk said.

Olszewski’s budget, which is about a 12% increase over last year’s, now goes to the County Council for review. The council can only cut his budget. It cannot add to it.

Last year, the council made no changes to Olszewski’s spending plan.