With an anticipated $108 million budget deficit for fiscal 2020, Howard County is doing what it can to trim spending, which, per an announcement today, will include cutting the police department’s aviation program at the end of April.
The move was announced with the blessing of Howard County police, and is expected to save the county $300,000 next fiscal year and nearly $1.8 million over the next four years.
“Our aviation unit and its pilots have done great work over the last 20 years,” Police Chief Lisa Myers said in a statement. “Due to budget constraints, it is now time to consider more cost-effective options. But with the resources available to us through partner agencies, this will be a seamless transition that won’t affect the services provided to the public.”
Howard County will still get aviation coverage from other agencies “24 hours a day,” a release said. Anne Arundel County, with whom HCPD combined flight crews in 2008, and Baltimore County police both maintain aviation departments.
Scott Peterson, Howard County’s director of communications, said in an email that HCPD only keeps one helicopter at present. Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said the four full-time officers in the Aviation Unit will be transferred to patrol positions.
“I want to thank every member of the HCPD for their help and cooperation, with special thanks to Chief Myers,” Ball said in a statement. “My number one priority is keeping our residents safe. This common-sense change allows us to address our fiscal realities, without sacrificing that safety.”
A $300,000 cut for fiscal 2020 is just a drop in the bucket, of course. A recent report from Howard County’s Spending Affordability Advisory Committee determined that with a recession forecast by some economists for 2020-21, weak employment growth in the county and recent declines in home sales and values, the deficit could grow from $108 million to $275 million by fiscal 2025 “without corrective actions.”
Proposed solutions from the report include levying new taxes, modifying existing ones on property transfers, roads, emergency services and more, and pushing the school system—which the report said consumes roughly 58 percent of Howard County’s spending—to work with administrators on “a budget that acknowledges the financial reality that the County faces.”
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