Dear Constituents and County Residents,
I want to take the opportunity to explain to each of you, my constituents, why I voted no. The decision to vote against this budget or any budget as a legislator is not one that I take lightly.
As a Councilman, the Baltimore County Charter only authorizes the Council to cut funding from the proposed budget. Councilmembers cannot add to the budget or reallocate funding from one program to another. Any cut by the Council can be reversed by the County Executive with his ability to shift spending from one program to the other.
Because of this, the County Executive has broad authority to set a budget that reflects what he feels to be the County’s priorities. Regretfully, I did not believe that his budget adequately addressed the issues facing the Third district or the people of Baltimore County as a whole.
As with every Budget I’ve considered, I evaluate the spending in relation to priorities. I look at the tax burden on County residents and property owners. Obviously, to craft a Budget is complicated. But the issues facing Baltimore County are abundantly clear.
CONCERNS REGARDING EDUCATION
Concerning the Administration’s budget priorities on Education, it seems to me that the BCPS budget priorities are more directed with technology in the classroom and standardized tests than adequate facilities, faculty, and support staff. This is not a matter of new funding, it is all about how that money is directed to be spent.
For example, there is a complete lack of funding for the current and future needs of Dulaney High School. It is remarkable that a school with such high achievement would be housed in a building that is literally crumbling from its foundations up. In the initial capital budget for Baltimore County Public Schools for the FY2018 fiscal year, Baltimore County intended to spend $38 million dollars on a controversial and wholly inadequate renovation for the existing Dulaney High. The building needs far more work than the limited renovation that was proposed. In fact, the amount of money needed for a state of the art renovation would be as much as the cost to build a new building.
After hearing from the Dulaney community, the School Board rejected the initial inadequate remodeling plan. Instead of funding the planning of a new facility for Dulaney, the County Executive zeroed out the appropriation entirely. Instead of deciding to better address the needs of current and future Dulaney students, the Administration decided to totally strip funding for Dulaney, kicking the “can down the road.”
With the need for a new school building so dire for Dulaney as well as others outside of the district (Landsdown and Towson High Schools most notably), I could not in good conscience support a budget that did not make this a priority.
Another reason that I voted against the budget is the lack of meaningful support for our ever increasing student population. As an increasing number of pupils are entering our school system, I believe that there needs to be a proportionate increase in teachers and support staff. This is ever more important as Baltimore County Public Schools SAT scores have declined since 2013. The number of students with difficulties, whether it be homelessness, personal matters, or hunger is on the rise. For example, currently there is a ratio of 1 guidance counselor for every 390 students in Baltimore County Schools. The American School Counselor Association recommends 1 guidance counselor for every 250 students.
While the Baltimore County School Board recently recommended a five year program to hire additional guidance counselors and social workers, the Administration’s budget the Council voted on did not include these positions recommended by the Board.
In order to pay for this, I supported using part of the funds allocated to the controversial and costly STAT program to fund the additional positions. Regrettably, as a Councilman there is no constitutional mechanism which allows me to do this. I raised the issue of an all Council letter to the Administration suggesting this course of action to my colleagues, but none were responsive to this issue. I will continue to advocate for this in the future, and remain skeptical of why BCPS is prioritizing tablets over school buildings and teachers. A reduction in unnecessary STAT spending will allow the school system to address these pressing needs.
EQUITABLE RETIREMENT FOR COUNTY EMPLOYEES
Additionally, this budget concerns me because of the reported allocation of six figure payouts to certain members of the administration upon their retirement. I cannot tell you how many retired county employees have contacted my office regarding the inequity of the special treatment given to a select few.
ENSURING PUBLIC SAFETY
Maintaining peace and security is the primary responsibility of government. I am very concerned in regard to the staffing of the 911 Center and the County Detention Center, as well as the morale in both agencies. I do not believe that the budget reflects these issues.
TOWARDS GREATER OPENNESS AND TRANSPARENCY
Taken together, all four issues – lack of funding for Dulaney, lack of funding for teachers, guidance counselors and social workers, overspending on STAT, concern over the public outcry of the inequity of executive retirement pay and benefits, and concern about aspects of public safety – made my decision an easy one.
Perhaps if the budget process were more open and transparent, these issues would have been better addressed. At the only public input hearing on the Budget, no citizen spoke. While some might point to apathy as an explanation, I believe it is something else. Holding a public hearing before the Council on the budget when the Council has no authority to raise or reallocate spending makes very little sense. What point is there for an individual to advocate for certain priorities when the Council has no ability to meaningfully alter the proposed budget?
Therefore, in the future, I strongly suggest that the County Executive hold at least two public input meetings early in the Budget process in order to find out what spending priorities are important to County residents. Just as importantly, the County Executive must hear those County taxpayers who feel that County taxes are overly burdensome.
In summary, I could not support this budget because I did not think its priorities reflected the priorities of Baltimore County residents. On other issues, I have been told by some of my colleagues on the Council that on issues of right and wrong, I am an absolutist. While it was meant to be pejorative, I could not agree more. With this budget, I could not in good conscience support it.