The Baltimore County Courthouse. Photo by James G. Howes, via Wikipedia.

Facing a budget shortfall of $81 million in fiscal year 2020, Baltimore County’s Commission on Fiscal Sustainability released an interim report today with a slate of recommendations for balancing the books, including a possible tax increase–a step county executive Johnny Olszewski has said he would like to avoid.

The commission, chaired by Don Mohler, who served as Baltimore County executive following the 2018 death of Kevin Kamenetz, noted the county has not adjusted its primary sources of revenue, the property tax rate ($1.10 per $100 of assessed real property value) and income tax rate (2.83 percent), in nearly three decades.

This has the added effect of hurting the county’s ability to borrow money since general fund revenues and debt service are factors in how credit agencies assign a credit rating for the county.

While promising a more detailed review of county revenue, the commission advised “that the administration recognize its current limits with regard to revenue capacity under the current tax rates and fee structures.”

Reached for comment, spokesman T.J. Smith said Olszewski will continue to examine how the county spends its money before deciding to raise taxes.

“The County Executive has said repeatedly that before he considers asking residents for more revenue, he has an obligation to take a close look at every penny we spend,” he said. “That’s where he is focused now. He is thankful for the work of the commission as he makes decisions about the FY 2020 budget and the County’s long term fiscal outlook.”

Olszewski will discuss the report at the last in a series of town hall meetings taking place across the county to discuss the budget, scheduled for March 6 at the UMBC Fine Arts Recital Hall in Catonsville, Smith said.

Along with the suggested tax increase, the commission recommended lawmakers adopt financial guidelines, develop five-year forecasts on spending and strategic plans for county agencies, and add more public input and transparency to the budgetary process, to name a few.

Since taking office, Olszewski has grappled with how to handle the county’s finances. One of his first acts was the executive order establishing the Commission on Fiscal Sustainability, which he first outlined in his inaugural address.

“The commission’s work is an extension of County Executive Olszewski’s commitment to an open and transparent budget process,” Mohler said in a statement. “The interim report is the first step in our effort to provide the County Executive and County Council substantive information to be considered during the upcoming budget process.”

The county’s fiscal woes have already had an impact on school funding. As WYPR has reported, the Baltimore County School Board last week ignored Olszewki’s requests for a leaner budget and passed one with 11 percent increases.

Olszewski rejected that proposal, saying, “I think we can find a way to invest in our educators and meet the needs while being fiscally responsible.”

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...