Olszewski presents pared-down budget focusing on the ‘basics’

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

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. presented a pared-down budget today, pledging additional funding for schools, worker raises and the roll-out of a new 311 system as the county grapples with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The $3.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2021 reflects an approximately $40 million write-down based on projections of lost revenue due to the virus.

During an online budget presentation to members of the county council and the general public, Olszewski said the budget builds in additional cushioning by keeping spending $6 million below the most recent revenue projection.

Such protections should allow the county’s rainy day fund to remain at 10.3 percent of the budget, which may be needed as the situation with the pandemic continues to evolve.

“It means this is a budget that focuses on the basics: educating our children, keeping our neighborhoods safe, and supporting the county’s workforce–our most valuable resource–so we can continue providing the essential services that residents expect and deserve,” he said.

The budget includes $36 million in additional funding for schools, about $20 million more than is required by federal guidelines for the county. Within that increase is a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for all Baltimore County Public schools employees, effective July 1.

To meet the school system’s demands for teachers during the budget crunch, Olszewski said he asked superintendent Darryl L. Williams to move 169 staff development teachers directly into classrooms.

While touting some of the changes made by Police Chief Melissa Hyatt, Olszewski called for a new provision to be passed in order to help two new police units and a proposed data center staffed with civilian crime analysts and police officers monitoring trends.

Olszewski proposed mounting cameras to school buses to catch motorists who illegally pass buses when they’ve stopped, and said the revenue would go toward these public safety initiatives.

His budget also provides $1 million in additional support for volunteer fire companies and funding for new fire fighting gear. It also fully implements a new 311 program in the county.

To support county workers, the “heartbeat of our government,” Olszewski said he has maintained a deferred 2 percent cost-of-living increase for county workers that starts in June and a second 2 percent increase that takes effect at the start of 2021–both of which were agreed to after negotiations with labor unions.

Olszewski instituted a hiring freeze on non-essential jobs in the response to coronavirus.

“But we remain committed to investing in our employees and doing everything within our power to avoid furloughs or layoffs,” he said today.

Since taking office, Olszewski has had to tackle the county’s financial woes. A February 2019 report he commissioned found the county was facing an $80 million shortfall.

The following May, the Baltimore County Council raised the income tax for the first time in nearly three decades and placed a new tax on cellphone service.

Brandon Weigel

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