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Proposed FY24 Budget Message

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April 13, 2023

Good morning, Council Chairman Jones, members of the County Council, and residents of Baltimore County. It is an honor to join you today to present Baltimore County’s Fiscal Year 2024 Budget—the first budget of our new term.

The incredible progress we have already made together, and the next steps we are announcing today, would not be possible without our strong collaboration with the Council. I am grateful to each of you, and in addition to applauding our returning members, I want to acknowledge Councilmembers Young and Ertel, who have quickly become vital partners during their first year on the Council.

I sought this office because I love this County and the community that raised me. I ran on the promise of delivering a “better Baltimore County.” No matter how great our County is, I firmly believe in our potential to be even better.

We have never given up on the promise of that potential—and we never will.

Together, we are ushering in a new generation of equitable leadership, embracing 21st century solutions in every neighborhood, and transforming Baltimore County into a model of open and accountable government.

Challenges Faced

We knew that it would take a bold, new vision to deliver on that promise. That was before we realized the obstacles we faced were far more challenging than anyone could have imagined.

When we discovered an $81 million deficit buried in a budget book; a shortfall that threatened our County’s ability to provide critical services and put our prized “triple AAA” bond rating in jeopardy, we refused to back down. We were open and honest with the public, engaged the expertise of our devoted employees, and worked together to find bipartisan solutions to get our County back on track.

We comprehensively closed that deficit while continuing to deliver record investments in education, public safety and other core services.

We have also delivered on this progress despite confronting a once-in-a-generation global pandemic that threatened our very way of life.

Here again, we turned again to our employees to help us lead one of the best responses to one of the worst crises of our lifetimes. It was a response that required more than just funding. It required a willingness to turn expertise into action.

Perhaps there is no better example of this than Baltimore County emergency preparedness coordinator Terry Sapp, who leveraged more than a decade of experience managing tours for bands like Twisted Sister into helping us design and lead one of the most efficient COVID-19 vaccination plans in the nation. Terry’s story is about more than dedicated government service. It’s about saving lives. And thanks to his efforts and the work of countless others, Baltimore County continues our pandemic recovery while setting bold new standards for our government.

For this, our employees deserve more than our thanks. They deserve our investment in their growth and potential.

A Budget for a Better Baltimore County

The budget I am introducing today builds on our new standards of excellence—and continues our commitment to strengthening education, investing in our infrastructure and recognizing the efforts of the incredible people who make a better Baltimore County possible.

It represents the culmination of months of hard work from our entire enterprise, especially County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers; Director of Budget and Finance Kevin Reed; our entire Budget and Finance team and Department heads from across County Government.

I am honored to have such a talented team dedicated to moving us forward and grateful for all of their contributions.

More than ever before, the people of Baltimore County are driving our decision making, holding us accountable and working with us to shape the future of our County.

For the fifth year in a row, we hosted our annual budget town hall series to ensure that this budget reflects the priorities of our strong and diverse communities. Our residents delivered again, as over 1,000 of our neighbors packed community centers, schools and even a horse auction house to share their aspirations for the future.

Amid this work, our financial stewardship has again been recognized as we retained the coveted “triple triple-A bond rating,” a distinction only two percent of counties across the nation receive. It is further affirmation that we remain on strong fiscal footing and are well positioned to continue equitably investing in the years ahead.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the County Council and everyone involved with the Spending Affordability Committee for their work to ensure we continue responsibly funding new solutions.

The growth provided in this year’s budget allows us to balance our multiple obligations—from continuing to rebuild our retiree benefit fund, investing in targeted but much-needed new programming, and, most of all, ensuring that our most valuable resource—our people—receive the pay and compensation they deserve.

Investing in Our Workforce

Because our employees are at the heart of our County’s future. They are our guardians and caregivers. They are the police officers who keep us safe, the educators that guide our children and the transportation workers who keep our roadways clear.

Every one of them is a vital thread in the fabric of our great County and I believe that the greatest investment we can make is in them.

That’s why I am proud to announce that this budget extends a four percent Cost-Of-Living Adjustment—or equivalent increase—for County employees. This comes in addition to our continued commitment to funding well-deserved STEP increases. These investments represent the highest year-over-year increase in County employee pay in at least three decades. These pay raises will directly benefit our workers, their families and the Baltimore County economy.

We recognize that many of our employees remain burdened by student debt. So, in addition to the tuition stipends already available to our employees, this budget establishes a $500,000 student loan relief fund, the latest investment in our hardworking people.

While we make these new commitments, we remain fully focused on sustaining our efforts to rebuild the fund that pays for employee healthcare. Prior to our arrival, that fund had been completely gutted, de-funded and was a just few years away from running out entirely. We refused to let that promise to our employees be broken. I am proud to say that over the past four years, we have made incredible progress in restoring that fund, including a $119 million contribution in this year’s budget—a nearly 25 percent year-over-year increase. With these commitments, we continue to right the ship so that our retirees can remain confident that their well-earned benefits are protected. We will also continue to make significant investments to keep our government open and accountable to the people we serve.

This budget again grows the Office of the Inspector General and fulfills key recommendations from our Blue Ribbon Commission on Ethics and Accountability, providing new support for additional legal counsel and data analysis while also creating a new and separate Director of the County’s Ethics Commission.

In the years ahead, we will continue taking steps to make Baltimore County a model of open and accessible governance that works for our communities, families and residents.

Investing in Our Students and Educators

At its core, this budget invests in the long-term success of our County. There is no place where that investment matters more than in our children.

As a former BCPS teacher, a current BCPS parent, and as County Executive, education will always be my passion and priority.

In town halls and community meetings, we’ve had the chance to hear firsthand just how important education is for our families. We have an opportunity and an obligation to give our next generation of leaders the resources and support they need to achieve that vision.

That starts inside our classrooms where—year after year—we have put forward record funding for our educators, support staff and students.

This year’s budget provides another historic investment for BCPS, a record shattering $71 million over required Maintenance of Effort to help empower educators to have the resources they need to focus on learning and student success. This $71 million local investment represents the single largest MOE increase in Baltimore County’s history.

Year after year, we continue to go above and beyond. In the years ahead, we will aim to partner with the School Board and a new superintendent to ensure this unprecedented support leads to the results that I—and all residents expect—especially safer schools and stronger tests scores.

These dollars will also continue to drive progress on supporting our educator workforce—the lifeblood of our classroom. Since taking office, our record funding has allowed for better salaries for Baltimore County educators taking them from the middle of the pack to among the highest paid in the state by most metrics.

At our town halls we continued to hear from our incredible educators, urging us to sustain that commitment.

Today, we are again delivering with a budget that should allow all teachers to have a starting salary of at least $59,000 per year—putting us on track to meet the requirements of the Blueprint years in advance. In addition, we are proposing record funding to support all other school system employees—bus drivers, grounds crews, cafeteria workers and so many others. This will enable us to meet and exceed Blueprint staffing requirements, as we move forward this year with investments like 41 new Pre-K para-educators and 22 full day Pre-K positions. We have also funded an additional 36 ESOL teachers, allowing students to get support and learn English in their home buildings rather than requiring them to travel to other schools.

This budget reaffirms my commitment to being The Education Executive—one who will always make the necessary investments, but who will also demand accountability and performance to ensure our students, parents and communities get a return on that investment.

Investing in Our Schools

Recognizing the importance of not only investing inside the classroom, but in the very buildings themselves, our administration has continued to “go big” on school construction.

We are already one year into our transformative plan to invest $3.3 billion to improve every school in Baltimore County by 2037. It is a plan that allows us to modernize our learning environments, invest in school safety and upgrade school infrastructure to meet the needs of our young learners. With sustained local investment and strong state partnerships, we are well on our way to achieving that goal.

This budget includes nearly $210 million in new local capital funding for school construction to continue improvements in every district. That includes delivering on the promise to provide 21st century buildings with new or like-new schools at Lansdowne, Towson and Dulaney High schools; millions more towards a solution for overcrowding in the Southeast area, additional funding towards a CTE Center in Northwest Baltimore County as well as more than $114 million in renovations and improvements at schools across the County.

Investing in Higher Education

Our budget also builds on our promise for all students pursuing higher education. Enrolling over 25,000 full and part time students every year, the Community College of Baltimore County is an essential partner in our education system and in workforce development.

Whether students pursue their degree or job training for a trade, CCBC opens doors for anyone looking for a high quality and accessible education.

We have been proud to partner with CCBC President Dr. Sandra Kurtinitis to hold in-County tuition in place and make education more attainable every year we’ve been in office. This budget sustains that commitment, freezing in-County tuition for a record sixth consecutive year. But we also know that for far too many, access to higher education and career advancement remains out of reach. In that spirit, we have made the expansion of the College Promise program a top priority. We have already grown this life-changing opportunity from just about 100 students, to nearly 1000 since taking office. Today, I am thrilled to share Baltimore County’s next steps to open doors of opportunity for those who need it most.

I am proud to announce that Baltimore County and CCBC are partnering to make near-universal Community College available—for free—to any Baltimore County family making less than $150,000 a year. That means any eligible resident seeking a full-time, part-time, or workforce certification program will be able to attend CCBC tuition free, utilizing our community college as a launching pad for their lives. This new commitment helps deliver on a promise I made during my first campaign for County Executive and I am so excited to make this possible in collaboration with an incredible institution like CCBC and an amazing partner in Dr. Kurtinitis.

The Future of Our Public Libraries

Like our community college, our public libraries provide incredible resources for lifelong learners of all ages. Libraries have so much potential for public good, serving as community anchors where everyone feels welcomed and is encouraged to learn, discover and be themselves.

Under the leadership of Director Sonia Alcantara-Antoine, BCPL continues to be a model for how a 21st-century library should operate and support its communities, with reading programs for our young people, digital literacy programs for older adults and resources for our small businesses.

This year’s proposed budget includes millions in capital investments for our library system as well as expansions into the communities that need them the most, with $9 million more towards the renovation and expansion of the Woodlawn Library, $12 million towards a significant renovation or replacement of the Lansdowne Library, $3 million for an expansion of the Randallstown Library and $6 million for a potential new Essex Library.

Investing in Public Safety

Our schools and library systems are important examples of upstream investments which make our neighborhoods safer and stronger. Because protecting public safety is one of the most sacred responsibilities of local government.

Every day, our law enforcement officers and first responders put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe. Thanks to their dedication, we saw a 36 percent decline in homicides last year while our clearance rate remains well above the national average.

Last year, I had the honor to travel across our County and meet with hundreds of law enforcement members to hear directly about their experiences, their needs and their vision for a better Baltimore County.

This budget delivers on exactly that, providing historic pay increases for our law enforcement professionals, including our police officers, 911 personnel, correctional officers and sheriff’s deputies. In addition, we are modernizing the starting salary scale for police officers, ensuring Baltimore County offers among the highest starting salaries in the state, a reflection of our continued appreciation for the immense dedication and bravery our officers show every day.

We are also investing significantly in our school crossing guard program to ensure we provide professionals to protect our kids while freeing up police resources to focus on key public safety needs. This budget also proposes nearly $7 million to enhance law enforcement’s community presence by allowing every patrol officer who lives in Baltimore County to bring their vehicles home and help deter crime in their communities.

As we invest in our officers, we will also invest in the high-quality facilities they need.

Our budget provides over $4 million towards the planning and design of a new and renovated Essex Police Precinct—a project that has been championed by advocates like Leah Biddinger who understand that improving this station will support our officers and the communities they serve—as well as over $1 million to support the eventual relocation and expansion of the County’s 911 Center.

Meanwhile, we know our firefighters and emergency service professionals continue to do so much to promote and protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our neighborhoods. Every day, these heroes rush directly towards danger, putting their lives on the line in order to save others.

We saw this incredible bravery on display just last week, when our firefighters worked throughout the night to fight and contain a fire that devastated hundreds of acres of land at Soldier’s Delight. Thanks to the quick and decisive action of our firefighters, we were able to safely combat this blaze with no loss of life and minor damage to personal property. This budget will make sure that these incredible heroes have the equipment and facilities they deserve to continue saving lives.

So we propose investing millions directly into our fire stations, including over $9 million for a new Catonsville Fire Station, $9 million towards a new Sparrows Point Fire Station, as well as increases in the Volunteer Fire Department Revolving Loan Fund to a total of a $1.75 million.

A Green Future for Baltimore County

Throughout our administration sustainability has remained a pillar of work. To ensure this work remains a key priority for administrations to come, we are announcing plans to codify sustainability functions into law so that this work is further embedded in the core of Baltimore County. Meanwhile, this year’s budget provides critical new investments, including, $500,000 for new floating wetlands projects and continuing our successful street tree programs and midge mitigation along Back River. Protecting our open spaces and improving our public park system is a vital component of sustainable government.

In the budget ahead, we will continue these investments with millions more in local and state funding that will, for example, allow us to engage in conversations with owners of the CP Crane property for the possible preservation of that green space.

We are incredibly proud of the record funding our administration has provided—and continues to provide—for Recreation and Parks.

This budget builds on that commitment, investing in the public spaces that bring our residents together and draw visitors from across the state and beyond, including:

  • $2 million to address needed improvements at Cromwell Valley Park
  • $2 million to deliver on the promised splash pad at Northwest Regional Park
  • $1.7 million for improvements at the Marshy Point Nature Center
  • $1.5 million to enhance walkability and access at Rosedale Park
  • $1.5 million to implement the planning envisioned at the former Pahls’ Farm property
  • $750,000 for parking improvements to ensure that the Lake Roland Red Trail is safer for everyone who wants to enjoy Baltimore County’s scenic beauty—delivering on the tireless advocacy of Jeffrey Budnitz and the Lake Roland Nature Council

At the same time, we continue to invest in the recreation opportunities that so many of our residents love and enjoy.

Our proposed budget funds new ways for residents to stay active and connected with:

  • $5 million to renovate, replace, and construct modern athletic fields across Baltimore County, including support for Baltimore County’s first-ever cricket field at Cloverland Park
  • $1 million to improve our boat ramps, piers, and canoe launching sites
  • Court renovations throughout Baltimore County, including an expansion of our beloved pickleball courts
  • Investments in expanding disk golf—delivering on a popular request from this year’s budget town halls and the advocacy of dedicated community members like Johnathan Mauldin and Peter Forrest
  • Other quality of life improvements like enhancing water fountains in our public parks to make them modern, and accessible for both residents and pets alike

Altogether, this means over $63 million for local recreation and parks improvements that connect residents with our County’s rich, natural resources.

We further recognize that Baltimore County’s agricultural industry is both a rich part of our legacy and our future. Baltimore County remains a national leader in land preservation with over 70,000 acres of protected farmland, waterfront, stream valleys and natural lands.

This year’s budget builds on this work, proposing an additional senior-level position to help us build a dedicated Agricultural office within the Department of Economic and Workforce Development, coordinating and further unlocking our government’s full potential to support this vital industry.

Investing in Our Quality of Life

From Randallstown to Rocky Point, every resident in every ZIP code across Baltimore County deserves a vibrant and thriving community. Just as we propose to embed our commitment to sustainable practices into law, today we are announcing plans to codify Baltimore County’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion into code, further weaving these core ideals into the fabric of our government.

Since naming Baltimore County’s first Immigrant Affairs Outreach Coordinator in my first term, we have done more than ever before to help support our immigrant neighbors. With over 12 percent of our residents representing immigrant communities, we must go further and expand our government’s capacity to support the cultures and residents who enrich our neighborhoods. To realize that goal, we will use American Recovery funds to bolster our Immigrant Affairs outreach and help us connect with a wider audience of residents as well as hiring a new community fellow.

We seek to make Baltimore County a model of equity and accessibility. This means reaching out to our residents in their community and addressing their needs directly. One of the most pressing challenges we’ve heard from our immigrant communities involves access to healthcare options—a core concern of organizations like Comité Latino and community advocates like Lucia Islas at Town Halls across the County.

Despite the existing healthcare opportunities available to our residents, it’s clear that we need better options to give all our neighbors access to life-saving care. In recognition of this, in the coming weeks we will be announcing the formation of a New Americans Health Care Access Task Force. Coupled with appropriate staffing support, it will explore options to meet this growing need.

We have also heard from many residents, including the Baltimore County Commission for Women, on the need for government to do more to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence—and to prevent incidents from occurring in the first place. In pursuit of this, we commit funding to support a Working Group on Resource Coordination to Support Victims of Sexual Exploitation, Violence and Domestic Abuse. We look forward to this important work of exploring best practices.

In addition, we are funding three new positions in the Office of the State’s Attorney, including a dedicated Assistant State’s Attorney for the Sex Offense Division, increasing their office’s capacity to prosecute these horrific crimes.

Investing in Our Infrastructure

As we continue to address community needs, we also recognize the need for investments in key physical infrastructure that keep our County moving forward. To that end, Security Square Mall remains one of our County’s biggest economic possibilities.

After years of under-investment, we were proud to join Baltimore County’s own Speaker Adrienne Jones and others to announce 20 million in state and County dollars towards again making Security Square a vibrant space for the community. Baltimore County recently took a major step forward, purchasing the former Sears property and embarked on a community-driven charrette process to reimagine the site. We expect their final report in the coming weeks and will be ready to take quick action, thanks to this budget which provides another $10 million in state and County funds to help this site meets its potential.

Likewise, the Pikesville Armory is an infrastructure project that we believe will revitalize the community around it and serve as a central point for families and businesses alike. That’s why we are providing another $3 million in County funding—matching the state’s commitment—to continue this project and deliver new opportunities to the corridor.

Collectively, this represents $12 million in local, state and federal contributions to help support the reimagining of this incredible space.

Investing in Transit and Transportation

As we work to build more vibrant communities, we remain committed to providing the basic services that residents count on. These core services do more than just get us from point A to point B. They help residents pursue their dreams and fuel the small businesses that help sustain our economy.

This year’s budget allocates nearly $40 million dollars to continue road resurfacing projects and sidewalk improvements that our residents depend on and continue to ask for. It includes hundreds of thousands of dollars for bike lane improvements, and allows us to continue investments throughout Pikesville, along Ingleside Avenue, at the Windsor Mill corridor, and along Ebenzer Road where Chesapeake Gateway community leaders like Alfred Pollard and Sharon Kihn have been fearless advocates for improvement.

At the same time, we’ve made it a priority to continue making transportation options more accessible and transit-friendly. In our first term, we launched the long-awaited Loop service, the County’s first fixed-route transit program. Already, the Towson Loop has had more than 88,000 rides to-date, as we look to expand this program to other neighborhoods in the years ahead. To further deliver on Baltimore County’s commitment to locally-operated transit, this budget eliminates the fees for our existing CountyRide program—permanently—so that we reduce barriers for those who need this service.

Investing in Our Seniors

Our older adults, who now account for about a quarter of Baltimore County’s population, have long been the foundation of our neighborhoods and deserve services that enable them to access healthcare, enjoy their leisure time and stay connected with the people they love.

We are excited to give back to them by continuing to invest in our senior centers, committing more than $2.5 million in additional funding to finish the expansion and renovation at Woodlawn Senior Center as well as over $1.5 million to finalize planning and design efforts for the Jacksonville Senior Center as well as the new North County Senior Center. These community hubs are absolutely necessary to deliver the connections our seniors deserve.

Cultural and Community Anchors

As we build more vibrant communities across Baltimore County, we are also making significant investments in our cultural anchors. These are the museums and arts venues that enhance the quality of life for Baltimore County and our entire region.

Our budget this year extends significant funding for institutions right here in Baltimore County, like the JCC, the Irvine Nature Center, the Natural History Society of Maryland and the treasured Lurman Woodland Theatre. We are thrilled to be joined by Barak Hermann, Brooks Patternotte, Joe McSharry, Mike Lang, and many other community leaders whose hard work and advocacy has made these cultural centers so successful.

This budget also supports regional gems like the National Aquarium and the Hippodrome to support our shared love for learning and the arts—fulfilling an impassioned request from educators like Rob Tracy, a visual arts teacher at Lansdowne Middle School.

This year’s budget doubles Baltimore County’s investment into the Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland. These incredible professionals save lives each and every day, including helping ensure that Officer Barry Jordan and Detective John Chih—two brave members of our Police Department wounded in the line of duty—were not taken from us or their families. Our entire County shares a deep well of gratitude for these officers as well as the people that saved their lives. And we thank leaders like Dr. Thomas Scalea, and the UMMS Shock Trauma team for continuing to seek increased investments into this life-saving service.

Collectively, these organizations make our County and region stronger.

When I look back at all we have achieved, from historic funding for public education; an enterprise-wide commitment to embracing equity and accountability at every level of decision-making; or our continued recovery from one of the worst crises of our lifetimes—I am constantly reminded of how far we have come.

I also recognize that none of that progress would be possible without the overwhelming contributions of the everyday heroes who give back to our communities. We have shown that when we invest in our greatest resource, our people, we can accomplish almost anything. This budget reflects that truth, and challenges all of us to raise the bar even higher in the years ahead. For as far as we have come, the work to fulfill the promise of our County remains unfinished.

With sustained partnerships from the Council, the school system, our state leaders, our amazing employees and the public we serve, I know we will meet—and exceed—the promise of our potential together.

Respectfully submitted,

John A. Olszewski, Jr.
County Executive
Budget Message

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County Executive

John A. Olszewski, Jr.