Anne Arundel County Executive Pittman shares priorities for his second term
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman's inauguration is slated for Dec. 5 for his second term after defeating Republican County Council member Jessica Haire in a tightly contested race. The ceremony is scheduled for 11am on the grounds of the Crownsville Hospital Center. Pittman said a lot of his re-election campaign revolved around questions about the size of the county government.
Did voters want it to shrink? Or did they want it to work better? The message he says he took is they wanted it to work better.
“It was things like streamlining the permitting process, so that it's not so cumbersome,” he said. And the government also needs to streamline the process for hiring teachers, police and firefighters, he added.
“There’s a lot of bureaucracy with how the hiring process works. It takes a long time to get a county job.”
And he has a lot of capital projects in mind as well.
“We’ve got a lot of schools that we're building, we've acquired land for parks, and now we've got to put the facilities in there so that the public can access them,” he said.
The biggest of those projects is Crownsville State Hospital, the crumbling institution with a grisly past that has been closed since 2004. Anne Arundel County acquired it from the state last summer. Pittman calls it a “beautiful piece of property right in the geographic center of the county.”
They’re going to call it Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park and create hiking and jogging trails as well as ball fields, making it a regional park for the county.
Opened as the Maryland Hospital for the Negro Insane in 1911, Crownsville became a dumping ground where doctors performed experiments on patients. Those who died with no families to claim their bodies were buried in graves marked only by numbers.
Now, the county operates a food bank out of one of the buildings and there are four addiction treatment centers on the site. Pittman says it will be a place of healing as well as exercise.
Given the hospital’s history, the horrors were committed there, Pittman said, “there's a real sense that a lot of people have that this is a place where healing can happen and should happen right in the heart of our county.”
Anne Arundel got $30 million in state money to begin work on the hospital grounds during the last General Assembly session, and Pittman says he hopes to get more in the next session.
Like many local government leaders, Pittman benefitted from an infusion of millions of federal dollars from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a financial spigot that will soon go dry. Pittman says he knew that would happen, so he used much of the money on one-time expenditures while shoring up health and human services spending. He says they are set up well for the future with a bigger rainy day fund than the county has ever had.
“Nobody knows what's going to happen economically, what revenues are going to look like, but we're in better shape than most governments,” he said.
One thing he did with ARPA money was use $4.4 million to give county school bus drivers signing and retention bonuses and a $5 an hour raise after the school board failed to put enough money in its budget to cover that.
Pittman says he’s talked with Dr. Mark Bedell, who took over as school superintendent last summer, and that Bedell understands the county has to compete with surrounding jurisdictions for teachers and “school staff at every level.”
“We've got to pay them at least as much as neighboring counties do,” he said. “We've got to pay them a livable wage and make it a desirable profession. That's our biggest challenge is filling those positions, those teaching positions.”
But that raises the question of whether he’ll need a tax increase to cover those raises. Haire, Pittman’s Republican opponent, sharply criticized him during the campaign for the tax increases he pushed through in his first year in office to give police and teachers raises.
For now, at least Pittman says that’s unlikely. He’s expecting an additional $50 million to $70 million in revenue in the next fiscal year, which should cover the additional expenses. But you never know for sure this early in the game.
“I'm hoping we can keep them,” he started. “I mean, we will keep them. We’re the lowest in the region. And we will keep them the lowest in the region. I'm hoping that we can hold them where they are.”
Anne Arundel’s property tax rate is 93 cents per $100 assessed value. In comparison, Baltimore County’s rate is $1.10, Howard County’s rate is $1.01, Montgomery County’s is 77 cents and Baltimore City’s rate is $2.24.