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More money for Baltimore County teachers and employees okayed by County Council

The Baltimore County Council. Photo by John Lee/WYPR
John Lee/WYPR
The Baltimore County Council.

The Baltimore County Council Thursday unanimously approved a budget for the coming year that includes pay raises for new teachers and county employees, and does not increase the tax rate.

The council made only one change to County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s $4.9 billion spending plan. It cut $500,000 from a proposed $2.5 million increase in administrative costs at the Baltimore County Public Schools.

Councilman Wade Kach, a Republican, proposed the cut. He said even though the school system was cutting eight positions from its administrative staff, it was asking for increased funding.

Kach said BCPS’s own comparison of its administrative staff with two similar school system’s found that “our administration is top heavy.”

The vote for the $500,000 cut was 4-3, with Democrat Mike Ertel joining Republicans David Marks, Todd Crandell and Kach in passing it.

Despite that divided vote, Olszewski praised the County Council for unanimously approving the overall budget.

Appearing on WYPR’s Midday program Thursday, Olszewski thanked them for “our bipartisan work that continues to put forward budgets that I think really invest in our key priorities here across Baltimore County.”

The County Council has limited power over the executive’s budget. It can only cut it. It cannot increase it or move money around. During the two previous budget years, the County made no cuts.

In his budget message, Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, said, “Although we do not agree with the allocation of spending over every agency and every capital project, we generally have faith in the investments being made.”

Olszewski’s spending plan includes a 4% cost of living raise for county employees.

Olszewski also said he is investing an historic amount into the school system, more than $70 million above what the state requires.

The county executive said he is providing the money to pay new teachers $59,000 a year, an increase of $4,500 each. Olszewski said there is also money to hire more people to run pre-K classes and three dozen additional English as a second language teachers.

Both the county and the school system have been struggling to hire enough people.

There is also money in the budget for free tuition for most county residents at the Community College of Baltimore County. Also, four libraries in Essex, Lansdowne, Randallstown and Woodlawn can either be replaced or renovated.

There is $7 million set aside so police officers who live in the county can take home their cruisers.

There is $150,000 the county inspector general can use to hire outside counsel. Inspector General Kelly Madigan has had to rely on the county attorney for legal advice. She said that can lead to a conflict because the county attorney serves at Olszewski’s pleasure, and Madgian’s investigations can include members of his administration.

There is money being sprinkled around the county for parks and athletic fields, including the county’s first cricket field at Cloverland Park in Phoenix and more pickleball courts.

Other budget highlights include $210 million for school construction, $3 million to redevelop the Pikesville Armory, eliminating fees for the CountyRide transportation service and creating an agricultural office within the county’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development.

During budget deliberations, Councilman Crandell raised concerns that Olszewski’s administration is using one-time American Rescue Plan (ARPA) money to pay for long-term positions.

Olszewski, speaking on Midday, said some positions were created with ARPA money. He said those jobs have been part of the county’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We actually transitioned a lot of those positions over to the general fund and we have a long-term plan to ensure that those positions will fade, having done the short-term recovery work that’s necessary, or if it’s appropriate, that we will have a transition plan to ensure they are general funded in a way that does not create a looming fiscal cliff,” Olszewski said.

The $4.9 billion spending plan is about a 2% increase over the current year’s budget. It will take effect July 1.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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