Baltimore County News
By Natalie Litofsky, Baltimore County Police and Fire
With the holidays just days away, shopping centers are bustling with activity. But while you’re checking your list twice, resourceful thieves are looking to help themselves to your gifts. Distracted or forgetful shoppers are often targets for criminals during the peak holiday shopping season.
It’s important to be aware of your surroundings and take the time to properly secure your purchases.
These tips will help you shop with safety in mind.
At the shops
- Carry a purse or shoulder bag close to your body, not dangling by straps.
- Put a wallet in an inside pocket of your coat or front pants pocket.
- Don’t carry or display a large amount of cash while out shopping.
- For larger or more expensive items, find out if the store will deliver the purchase. This avoids the uncertainty of carrying the item through a mall or parking lot.
- If you are ready to leave the mall and feel uneasy about entering the parking lot or garage by yourself, stay in the mall and ask for a security escort.
At the car
- Always walk and park in well-lit areas. This includes parking lots, garages and street parking.
- Don’t talk on a cell phone when walking from shops. The conversation is distracting and the phone itself may be a target for thieves.
- When you return to your vehicle after your shopping trip, lock your car door as soon as you get in.
- Do not leave valuables – gifts, cell phones, purse or clothing – in open view in your car. Take valuables with you, lock them in your trunk, or cover them in an unobtrusive way.
- When returning home after a shopping trip, be sure to have the house keys in your hand, ready to use when you reach the door.
- Leave lights turned on both inside and outside your residence after dark. It deters thieves and ensures you’re returning home from shopping to a well-lit environment.
- If you leave wrapped gifts under a Christmas tree, make sure they cannot be seen from the window. This is an easy target for burglars.
- If you will be away from home for several days, make arrangements for someone to pick up your mail and newspapers. An overstuffed mailbox is a sure sign that no one is home, and burglars are tempted to check those envelopes for holiday gifts.
If you ever feel unsafe while out shopping, walk into the nearest shop or restaurant and ask an employee to call 911. If you’re not near a shop, don’t hesitate to yell. It’s better to make noise over nothing than to be silent and compromise your safety.
Pledges regional cooperation
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz issued the following statement on the eve of Mayor-Elect Catherine Pugh's inauguration:
“With congratulations to my good friend Catherine Pugh as she becomes Mayor of the great City of Baltimore, I also reaffirm Baltimore County’s commitment as a regional partner to address issues of job growth, education, transportation, housing and public safety. The future of Baltimore City is bright and I look forward to working with Mayor Pugh to build that future.”
$76.7 million included for social safety net
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz presented the Fiscal Year 2017 Budget Message and State of the County Address to the County Council this morning.
The County’s General Fund Operating Budget for FY 2017 is $1.99 billion, an increase of 1.27% above the previous year. The budget is within the Council’s spending affordability guidelines.
This year’s capital budget totals more than $383 million, including $127 million in PAYGO funds. $195.7 million, or 51% of the total, is dedicated to school renovation and construction projects for Baltimore County Public Schools.
Budget holds line on taxes and maintains bond rating
- No increase in property tax rate – 28th year in a row
- No increase in income tax rate – 24th year in a row
- Maintains Triple AAA bond rating – one of only 42 counties in the nation to achieve top rating from all three Wall Street agencies
- 2% COLA for general government and Baltimore County Public Schools, CCBC and BCPL employees
- $195.7 million for school renovation and construction projects
- $66.4 million in PAYGO (general funds and debt premium) for BCPS capital projects
$1.3 billion Schools for our Future
- 15 new schools
- 11 additions
- Every Baltimore County Public School will have central air conditioning
- Providing central air conditioning for an additional 50,563 students
- 12,289 new seats built
- Net gain of 7,925 new seats
Bedford Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Berkshire Elementary, funded July 1, 2018
Catonsville Elementary, opens August 2016
Chadwick Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Colgate Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Dundalk Elementary, funded July 1, 2017
Lansdowne Elementary, opens August 2018
Lyons Mill Elementary School, opened August 2015
Mays Chapel Elementary School, opened August 2014
NE area- Joppa Road site, opens August 2018
NE area- Ridge Road site, funded July 1, 2019
Relay Elementary, opens August 2017
Summit Park Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Victory Villa Elementary, opens August 2018
Westowne Elementary, opens August 2016
Deer Park Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Fort Garrison Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Hampton Elementary School, opened August 2013
Hereford High School, opened August 2015
Padonia International Elementary, opens August 2017
Pikesville High School, complete August 2016
Red House Run Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Scotts Branch Elementary, funded July 1, 2019
Sparks Elementary School, opened August 2015
Stoneleigh Elementary School, opened August 2013
Westchester Elementary, opens August 2016
Central Air Conditioning Project Installation Schedule
Baltimore Highlands ES
Other education highlights:
- 130 new teaching positions for BCPS (below)
- 76.6 teachers to support enrollment growth
- 4 teachers to support foreign language in 4th grade
- 26.6 additional ESOL teachers
- 20 additional teachers for special education and teachers of at-risk youth
- 2.5 positions for pre-kindergarten
"One constant during my time with Baltimore County has been the incredible support of Team BCPS partners and two of the strongest examples are County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the members of the County Council. Their commitment to not only our academic initiatives but also to modernizing existing schools and building new schools to accommodate our growing student population has been unwavering and deliberate. I applaud our County's unwavering commitment to education, and I look forward to our continued collaboration on behalf of our 111,000 plus students,” said Dr. S. Dallas Dance, Baltimore County Public School Superintendent.
- $349 million for public safety (Police, Fire, Corrections and 911) – 18% of general fund budget
- $76.8 million to support social safety net programs to support Health and Human Services, homeless programs, support for seniors, housing opportunities and assistance to victims of domestic violence
- $52.8 million to support culture and leisure in Baltimore County and the region
- $32.8 million Baltimore County Public Library
- $11 million Recreation and Parks
- $9 million in grants for nonprofits supporting the arts, entrepreneurship, and health and human services
General Fund Operating Budget (Including one-time expenditures and pending FY16 $9.75M snow removal supplemental appropriation.)
Capital Budget Highlights
- $26.5 million for road resurfacing
- $12.9 million for technology upgrades
- $2.7 million to:
- Replace turf at Catonsville High School and CCBC Essex
- Install turf fields at Milford Mill Academy and Sparrows Point High School
- Light an additional all-purpose field at Spring Grove
- $1.7 million for renovation of the Health and Career Technology Center at CCBC Essex
- $1 million for capital improvements to the Catonsville, Randallstown and Reisterstown libraries
Below are direct excerpts from the County Executive’s speech:
Role of Government
During a year of increasingly divisive politics, we ask the fundamental question: what is the role of government? Is it the narrow path of providing basic services, filling potholes, perhaps picking up the trash? Or is it broader, where government can be fiscally responsible, offer reliable and even innovative services, but also establish an ascending moral vision of our duty as fellow citizens? I believe that in Baltimore County, guided by our sound values and principles, we must pursue our responsibilities with even greater vigor.
Responsible Fiscal Management
Fiscal responsibility is the cornerstone of any well-managed government. Once again, our proposed budget is within the County Council’s spending affordability guidelines, with no increase in the tax rates. With this budget, it will be 28 years since we last raised the property tax rate and 24 years since we last raised the income tax rate. This commitment to fiscal stewardship has earned us the coveted AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies, and we are just one of only 42 counties, out of more than 3,000 nationwide, to earn this mark of fiscal excellence. This allows us to pay the lowest interest rates possible when we borrow money. In fact, since 2010, our Triple AAA rating has saved taxpayers $38 million in interest.
The Priority of Education
We are now more than halfway through our unprecedented $1.3 billion Schools for our Future initiative, and with the passage of this budget and the funding request for the next three referenda, we will have built 15 new schools and 11 additions, adding more than 8,500 new classroom seats to accommodate future growth.
This budget will also reduce the number of schools without central air conditioning to just 10 — down from 90 only six years ago — and those final 10 schools are on track to have central air conditioning installed by 2019, completing our mission to ensure comfortable learning environments for every single student in Baltimore County. In the near future, hot classrooms will be a thing of the past, and it would not have happened without the support of our County Council and state delegation in Annapolis. We also recognize that a responsible government plans for future enrollment growth, and over the next year, Dr. Dance and I will be working together to address our high school enrollment needs for the coming decades.
A Safe Community
Whether our loved ones are at school, work, or out and about in our neighborhoods, we want to know they are safe. Communities cannot thrive unless parents feel good about letting their children walk to the store or ride their bikes to the park. Each of us wants to wake up in the morning knowing Baltimore County is a place that promotes positive values and welcomes diverse opinion.
The crime rate in Baltimore County is at historic lows, with clearance rates exceeding both state and national standards. Our fire and medic service is one of the best in the country. I am proud of our esteemed public safety officials, Police Chief James Johnson and Fire Chief John Hohman, both of whom are doing an outstanding job. I thank all our public safety employees for their unwavering dedication to safeguarding our county.
The success of public safety, however, goes far beyond statistics. As leaders of the region, we must acknowledge the national conversation that is taking place about law enforcement policies and police-community relations. The past 18 months have been particularly challenging for police departments and neighborhoods in almost every state in the union.
There is no doubt that families of all backgrounds are increasingly worried when their teenagers go outside to spend time with friends. There is also no doubt that every family of a police officer worries more than ever when their loved one leaves the house to protect us on a daily basis.
With the need to protect both our citizens and our police officers, we recognized that our forward-looking county would benefit from a police body camera program to improve public safety, enhance transparency and trust, reduce complaints and make prosecutions more effective. This program, using speed camera revenue, will be initiated in every Baltimore County precinct starting July 1 and fully implemented over the next two years.
We are also strengthening our already robust outreach efforts. In addition to our longstanding partnerships with the Police Community Relations Councils and other groups, department outreach personnel are increasing their efforts to build relationships among communities that have not traditionally interacted with police.
To help emergency care reach citizens faster, our fire department placed four additional medic units in service and opened the new Towson Fire Station. We also supplied all career and volunteer firefighters with $5 million in new breathing apparatus to better protect them from the dangerous conditions they so often encounter.
We are also grateful for the service provided by our volunteer fire and EMS companies, and we are pleased to provide them with a 9.2% increase in funding. We also propose a $350,000 increase for our volunteer companies’ most successful initiative, the attended medic program, which increases citizen access to medic services at peak hours of demand.
We also recognize that if we want people to have confidence in the decisions made by our public safety personnel, our rank and file must reflect the diversity of the people that they protect. Chiefs Johnson and Hohman have done an excellent work in this endeavor. As a result, our police and fire recruit classes have averaged 40% non-white male, better reflecting an increasingly diverse Baltimore County. Our diversity is represented not only in the rank and file of our police department, but also in its highest levels of command. And the percentage of female fire fighters in Baltimore County is among the highest in the nation. Working together with our communities, we are one county.
A Strong Local Economy
A critical role of our county government is to grow jobs and strengthen our local economy. When I first took office, we were in the midst of the worst economic downturn since 1929. The unemployment rate in the county stood at 8.1%. Today that rate has been driven down to 5%, and we’ve added 33,251 jobs.
This type of recovery has not occurred everywhere though, and while there are certainly macro-economic forces at play, Baltimore County has continued to support those fundamental drivers that allow us to maintain a strong and robust economy. This budget is a reflection of our understanding of what it takes to grow jobs, maintain business and create new ones.
We know that businesses require stable tax rates, an educated work force, and a high quality of life for their employees. We’re achieving that in Baltimore County with an unprecedented commitment to education and public safety and investments in our aging infrastructure, parks and green space, all while keeping our property and income tax rates flat.
And it’s working. This commitment to the fundamentals of job growth and a strong economy have led to more than $1 billion of private investment in Towson, more than $750 million in Owings Mills, and a Sparrows Point with a real and tangible future — a future with 10,000 family-supporting jobs. Major employers want to stay here, too. McCormick Spice, Care First and Social Security all chose to remain in Baltimore County after investigating potential moves. When companies expand and jobs are created, the dollars to invest in our county also grow.
Keeping our County Clean, Green and Strong
Pope Francis did an extraordinary thing last year when he released an encyclical on the environment, calling on us all to work together to take “good care of our common home” – the Earth. Simply put, citizens, businesses and government must collaborate to become better stewards of our beloved home.
Almost 50 years ago, the County adopted the Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, which, along with conservative land use and environmental practices, has helped our Department of Planning preserve vital natural and agricultural resources in our rural areas. Indeed, two-thirds of our county remains rural. Baltimore County has placed more than 63,000 acres under easement, including 726 acres this past year. Our county is ranked first among counties for Maryland Environmental Trust donated easements, third for Rural Legacy and fourth for agricultural easements.
When it comes to planting trees, Baltimore County is a leader among Maryland counties through our Department of Environmental Protection and Sustainability’s aggressive reforestation program, which planted 71 acres of trees this past year, helping us earn our 12th Tree City USA designation just last week from the National Arbor Day Foundation.
Ask any Baltimore County resident what their favorite summertime activity is, and there is a good chance that it involves water. With 200 miles of waterfront and more than 2,000 miles of streams and rivers, our connection to the Bay is personal. It’s catching that first rockfish off the pier. It’s boating at Marshy Point, and it’s watching the sunset over the Key Bridge in Eastern Baltimore County.
It is easy to understand why we’re working hard to protect our natural treasure. Our Department of Environment Protection and Sustainability, led by Director Vince Gardina, has completed more than $60 million in stream restoration, shoreline stabilization, reforestation and other water-quality projects since 2011 to preserve and restore our natural infrastructure, with more than $77 million in additional projects planned.
The aspiring goal of our county government is to formulate policies that keep us heading in the right direction. We can’t look to the future without building on the principles that have guided us in the past. Just as we tend to our families, we also care for our neighbors down the street. This requires us to examine not just the needs of our residents, but also those who live within our shared region. If we are to create the kind of Baltimore County that we want our children to be proud of, we must recognize the important role that Baltimore City plays in our county, in our region and in our state.
That is why we continue to dedicate nearly $3 million in this budget to support regional arts and cultural institutions in the city. And that is why we were there last spring to lend a helping hand, and not with a bill in our hand, when the City needed it most. It also requires us to invest in new strategies in the coming year that are designed to encourage employment training and growth for our entire region. I am also proud that, after years of negotiation, the County resolved a longstanding housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which allows us to move forward with a reasonable plan to encourage affordable housing be made available to people who share the values of low crime, quality education and access to jobs. I thank County Attorney Mike Field, Planning Director Andrea Van Arsdale and their teams for reaching this agreement with the federal government.
Living Up to our Values
Government will ultimately be judged by how it treats the least fortunate among us. Knowing there are many for whom life’s challenges seem insurmountable, our values demand that we take action to care for the homeless, look after our senior citizens, help people find quality housing and assist those struggling with substance abuse and domestic violence. The work performed each day by Andrea Van Arsdale, Dr. Gregory Branch, Barry Williams, Deborah Richardson, Joanne Williams and their departments reflect this aspirational view of government.
Whether it be through new substance abuse initiatives, a modern homeless shelter replacing trailers, a transitional housing facility for battered women and children, a new PAL center, educational programs for our inmates, or even outreach to homebound seniors, we are committed to leaving no one behind on our watch. With that in mind, this budget includes more than $76 million to provide crucial services so our friends and neighbors can get back on their feet and live life to the fullest.
I often note that Baltimore County is more populous than four states, yet we continue to operate with the finer principles of a small town, where we know our neighbors’ names and look out for one another. We are proud of what we have done to make our county a more accessible and inviting place for all.
State of the County
Looking around this room, I feel an incredible sense of pride when I think about what we have accomplished since 2010. Working together, we helped mitigate the effects of the Great Recession. We made our streets safe and our schools strong. We faced the challenge of rebuilding our aging infrastructure. We protected our environment and the vulnerable among us while growing our economy. As a result, the state of our county is strong.
The County Executive’s Budget Message and State of the County address is available on the County website at www.baltimorecountymd.gov/speeches.
The County Council is scheduled to vote on the budget May 26, 2016.