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Kevin Kamenetz

FY17 Budget Message and State of the County Address
April 14, 2016

Speech Highlights

Budget Details (PDF)

Council Chair Almond, members of the County Council, fellow employees and citizens, it is my distinct honor to present you with Baltimore County’s proposed operating and capital budgets for fiscal year 2017.

It’s a pleasure to see members of the General Assembly here today as well. I especially thank Speaker Pro Tem and House Education and Capital Budget Chair Delegate Adrienne Jones and Budget and Tax Chair Senator Ed Kasemeyer, who worked tirelessly on our county’s behalf over the past 90 days.

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. 

Fiscal Responsibility

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.

Our dedication to strong fiscal management has also allowed us to provide a two-percent COLA for all our hardworking employees, as well as pay increases for longevity and steps. I thank Human Resources Director George Gay and all six of our bargaining units for reaching these labor agreements. And of course, we are grateful to each of our dedicated employees for what you do every day on behalf of our county’s 831,000 residents.

We also continue to make government more efficient and effective through our Office of Information Technology, where Director Rob Stradling and his team have implemented nearly 300 technology initiatives since 2010. You need only look to our most recent projects, such as No Wrong Door, our 911 upgrades, and our Virtual Call Center, to understand the impact these projects can have — each makes it easier for citizens to interact with government. And in the near future, we will have a much-improved customer service operation to assist citizens during storm emergencies. In this budget, we continue our commitment to making government more innovative with nearly $18 million to fund 30 technology projects throughout the County.

The Priority of Education

Just as sound fiscal policies are integral to good governance, a quality education is fundamental to our citizens’ personal, cultural and social development. Having a well-educated workforce is also vital to our county’s prosperity. That is why we invest more than half of our county’s tax dollars in public schools, community college and the library system every year.

I am delighted that our county’s champions of education are with us this morning: Schools Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance, Library Director Paula Miller and Community College of Baltimore County President Dr. Sandra Kurtinitis. We entrust these three individuals, their incredible staff and dedicated teachers to provide educational opportunities to every resident in this county, including our public school’s 111,000 students, the library’s 400,000 active users, and CCBC’s 65,000 students.

Our county’s ongoing commitment to public education is best demonstrated by our recent investments in school construction. This year’s capital budget totals more than $383 million, including $127 million in PAYGO funds. Of that total, almost $196 million of county dollars are dedicated to school construction projects, including more than $120 million in forward funding to accelerate the program. Never before in our county’s history have we undertaken such a comprehensive plan to resolve the twin dilemma of our school system’s aging buildings and rising enrollment.

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 7,925 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.

Under Dr. Dance’s leadership, our school system is becoming one of the best in the nation. The graduation rate now stands at almost 88 percent, increasing each of the past five years. Seventy-five percent of our high schools are rated among the best in the nation, while 23 schools have earned Blue Ribbon status. To help them continue this success, I am proud that this budget provides funding for more than 130 additional teachers next year. These new positions will also supplement our Passport initiative providing foreign language instruction at the elementary school level. It also increases the number of ESOL, special education and health personnel.

Baltimore County’s obligation to public education does not stop when our students graduate from high school. We are pleased to provide additional funds to the Community College of Baltimore County to begin the $41.6 million renovation of the Health and Career Technology building on the Essex campus. This is a prudent investment, as CCBC serves as a major component of our employment strategy. In partnership with our Department of Economic and Workforce Development and its Director Will Anderson, CCBC trains people for careers in the 21st century economy. In addition to job training, our community college gives students the opportunity to earn college credit while still in high school. CCBC is one of the nation’s top associate degree-granting colleges, and at a time when the average student debt in our nation for a college graduate is nearly $30,000, it offers an affordable alternative for Baltimore County students pursuing a four-year degree. Is it any wonder that CCBC boasts the largest enrollment of any community college in the state?

Our library system has had an exciting year, which included the launch of BC Reads, a community reading program, and new partnerships with local nonprofits, cultural institutions, colleges and public schools to help citizens attain personal growth and success. Building on our innovative brand of government, we are pleased to budget one-half million dollars for tablets to lend in each library, providing greater access to e-books that are quickly becoming a standard in every American household.

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 percent 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 they protect. Chiefs Johnson and Hohman have done excellent work in this endeavor. As a result, our police and fire recruit classes have averaged 40 percent 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.  

Living Up to Our Values

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.

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.

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.

Baltimore County has created an extensive system of parks, preserved land and watersheds that form a remarkable green network stretching from the Chesapeake Bay to the Mason-Dixon line.

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.

Preserving our county’s natural settings also means ensuring people have access to places where they can play, exercise and enjoy the outdoors. With the opening of new parks, recreation centers, and even new dog parks in recent years, we offer first-class recreational facilities for all of our residents. I am also pleased to include in this year’s budget $11 million for the Department of Recreation and Parks to provide year-round recreational opportunities and construct two new turf fields at Milford Mill and Sparrows Point high schools. I especially thank the Booster Clubs and Rec Councils serving these communities for their contributions to these projects. 

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 Environmental 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.

In terms of infrastructure projects, I would like to commend the exceptional work our employees do in the Department of Public Works to keep our county going strong. They dug our county out in less than a week after Winter Storm Jonas dumped the biggest single snowfall in the history of this county. And when it wasn’t snowing, they inspected, repaved and repaired hundreds of miles of roads and pipe, filled 72,000 potholes, completed 16 studies to end sewage overflows, oversaw $1.6 billion in water and sewer projects, and recycled more than 50,000 tons of materials at our state-of-the-art recycling facility. By the way, our innovative recycling facility actually saved taxpayers more than $21 million in its first two years of operation.

We can’t discuss public works without recognizing a gentleman who truly reflects the work ethic of so many of our county employees. I think I see a subtle smile on Ed Adams’ face because this will be his last Budget Message as department head. Ed is retiring on May 1, and I know we all wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors.

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 percent. Today that rate has been driven down to five percent, 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. 

A County We’re Proud to Call Home

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. 

Respectfully submitted,

Kevin Kamenetz, County Executive

 

Kevin Kamenetz
County Executive

 
Revised April 19, 2016         

 

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Don Mohler
Phone: 410-887-2450

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