Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz’s proposed $3.15 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year does not contain a tax increase. But it does include a two percent pay raise for county workers and plans for a new middle school in Perry Hall.
Kamenetz presented his spending plan Thursday to the County Council and a packed audience in the council chambers.
The county hasn’t raised its property tax rate of $1.10 per $100 of assessed value in 29 years. The income tax rate has held steady for 25.
Kamenetz said that’s because the local economy is strong. Since he took office a little over six years ago, Kamenetz said, there has been more than $5 billion in major private development, like new homes and offices in the county.
He said that growth "builds our tax base so that we can preserve our quality of life while keeping tax rates stable."
But with that growth come higher assessed property values. So while the tax rate might not increase, the tax bill does.
And that bothered Republican Councilman Wade Kach, who said the higher bills really hit seniors on fixed incomes. He said Kamenetz should cut property taxes.
"For government to require that people pay additional property taxes is really not acceptable," Kach said.
Kach is unlikely to see any lowering of the property tax rate because the council has little power when it comes to the county budget.
For the most part, council members, Democrats and Republicans alike, seemed pleased with Kamenetz’s budget. Kamenetz is a Democrat and is considering running for Governor next year. Council members said pet projects, like new and renovated schools and road resurfacing, were being spread fairly around the county.
One of the big plums in the budget is a new middle school in Perry Hall. That should open in Republican councilman David Marks’ district in 2021.
"The Republicans on the council have a record of working with the county executive," Marks said. "We’ll scrutinize the budget. But structurally I think it’s a very good blueprint for the county."
Kamenetz focused on schools during his address, noting he is accelerating the building of four elementary schools and touting the county’s investment in education.
Schools and libraries make up more than 60 percent of the operating budget, he said, and the county’s high school graduation rate is nearly 90 percent.
"Equally impressive is that the achievement gap is closed," he added. "African American students in Baltimore County public schools are now graduating at the same rate as white students."
Kamenetz included $38 million in his operating budget for resurfacing roads and $470 million in the capital budget to upgrade water and sewer lines.
The council will hold a public hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. April 25 in council chambers and is expected to vote on it by May 25.