Spending affordability panel recommends $1.6 billion target for next budget

… Report is used as guideline for next county budget …

By Steve Schuster

Posted 2/02/11

Baltimore County’s spending affordability committee this week recommended a $1,633,889,458 spending limit for the county in fiscal year 2012.

This year’s amount is up about $1.8 million from last year’s recommendation for the FY 2011 budget, which was $1,632,022,333.

Members of the panel said the spending cap is based on a expected growth rate of 2.25 percent in personal income revenues — but not much else above the current fiscal year 2011 “base-year” spending level.

The $1.6 billion figure will be included in a report to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The spending affordability committee is charged with taking into account revenue expectations and spending needs to set a budget target for the next fiscal year.

 The panel’s report is due to Kamenetz by Feb. 15.

The committee is chaired by 7th District Councilman and Council Chairman John Olszewski, and 1st District Councilman Tom Quirk, who represents Arbutus and Catonsville, and 5th District Councilman David Marks, who represents Perry Hall, Towson, and Loch Raven, also serve on the committee.

Other members are Roy Meyers, a political science professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Carlotta Oliver, managing director with Profit Investment Management.

“There is a recognition that the county has to be very prudent and careful how we spend our money,” Quirk told the Towson Times after the meeting.

Quirk said the committee was briefed by Anirban Basu of Sage Policy Group Inc., an economist who “seemed to be more optimistic on where things are.”

“It was good to hear that finally the stock market is coming back,” Quirk said. “We are seeing improvement.”

 Quirk said he believes the county is in good fiscal shape, based on what he called the “stewardship under former County Executive Jim Smith and Chief Administrative officer Fred Homan.”

“I know (County Executive) Kevin Kamenetz wants to absolutely continue that tradition,” he said.

Quirk’s said sacrifices — and compromise on labor issues — have resulted in fiscal stability for the county.

“We are in better shape now because of an exceptionally good administration and also for working relationships with our labor unions that have made significant sacrifices,” he said.

Marks said the county has always “erred on the side of being fiscally conservative,” but he said this can come with a price — namely the need to look at some social issues that are being impacted by the economy.

“We have high unemployment and an alarming number homeless children in our public school system,” he said.

Quirk said he, too, is concerned with the number of Baltimore County Public School students currently receiving subsidized meals — an indicator of families that are struggling.

Timothy Griffith, head of the county’s Department of Services testified before Marks, Quirk, and the rest of the council in December stating that the state was sued last year for “its collective failure to process requests for assistance,” which put Baltimore County in a challenging spot, feeling the ripple effect from the state, he said.

The Spending Affordability Committee has been around for more than two decades. The committee meets several times each year to limit the rate of growth of county spending to a level that does not exceed the rate of growth of the county’s economy, according to county officials.

For additional information and to review a copy of last year’s committee report go to resources.baltimorecountymd.gov/Documents/Auditor/2010/sacfy2011.pdf.

Towson Times

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