Baltimore County Council Leaves Budget Largely Intact

… Council cuts only $258K from proposed $1.6B county budget …

By Raven L. Hill, The Baltimore Sun

8:58 PM EDT, May 17, 2011

The Baltimore County Council is on track to leave Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s proposed $1.6 billion budget intact, ignoring most of the county auditor’s recommended cuts.

The council voted Tuesday to cut the spending plan by approximately $258,200 — only a fraction of the $1.5 million that the auditor suggested. Council members also urged schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston to find ways to restore some of the 196 teaching jobs that would be cut through attrition in the proposed budget.

Hairston said he could not make any promises about the positions, but that he would consider keeping some if money becomes available.

The county’s budget is slated for adoption on May 26.

The Fire Department would have faced a $700,000 hit — the largest recommended cut. Fire Chief John J. Hohman told the council earlier this month that he couldn’t spare “$7 much less $700,000.”

Several agencies and departments and the school system did not face any cuts. The budget reductions will affect grants to some nonprofits and cultural institutions outside the county. The council agreed to reduce contributions by 10 percent to organizations that receive less than $50,000, arguing that larger institutions are more frequently visited by county residents. The Fire Museum of Maryland and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture will be exempt from cuts.

“It was a lean budget,” said council Chairman John Olszewski Sr., an Edgmere Democrat. “I still think we did our due diligence. We looked long and hard at any potential cuts.”

Don Mohler, a spokesman for the county executive, said Kamenetz will appreciate the council’s action though he warned that next year will make this look like a “honeymoon.”

The council also reviewed the school system’s budget on Tuesday, in the last in a series of meetings that it has held since Kamenetz introduced the spending plan last month.

Parents and community members have argued that eliminating the teacher jobs will result in larger class sizes, and fewer electives and Advanced Placement courses. The school system has not planned any layoffs or furloughs.

In response to questions from Olszewski about the job cuts, Hairston said that he would consider “every available option” but that next year is expected to be even tighter economically.

The superintendent also said that decisions on AP and elective course offerings have not been finalized.

Stricter enforcement of Rule 1300 — as the school system’s policy on the use of its facilities is known — put some long-standing community activities and fairs in jeopardy, sparking outcry from parent-teacher associations and other groups.

On Monday, a school board committee amended some of the more controversial aspects of the facilities policy, such as not requiring groups with fewer than 50 people to provide insurance and allowing for-profit groups to apply to use schools and other buildings.

The board will review the policy next Monday, with adoption scheduled for July 12. Public comment on the proposed changes will be accepted online from May 19 to June 14. The public will also be able to comment on the changes at the board’s June 14 meeting.

There was a testy exchange between the council chairman and superintendent about the anticipated changes when Olszewski asked why the council wasn’t notified about Monday’s developments.

“You’re asking for something that’s less than 18 hours old,” Hairston said.

Olszewski replied, “If we would have gotten it this morning we would have had a chance to look at it and reflect on what the policy changes are so we could ask some pertinent questions if we desire to do so.”

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