Letter From The Councilman
Thank you to everyone for your sharing your thoughts on the fiscal challenges that Baltimore County faces. I want to thank County Executive Johnny Olszewski and my County Council colleagues for their work on this year’s budget. I’m proud we came together in a bipartisan, collaborative way to find solutions that will put us on track to do big things in the years to come.
No one takes pleasure in increasing taxes. It was a very difficult decision and a last-resort measure. The easiest decisions for an elected official to make are those that benefit the minority of the present, and the most difficult decisions are those that benefit the majority of the future.
But as a result, our county is headed on a sustainable fiscal path and a bright future with record investments in education, public safety and public works.
This year, we faced an $81 million budget deficit between revenues and expenditures based on funding commitments that were made in the past and actions that are required to address the current need.
These challenges stem from a stagnant revenue stream that dates back to 1992, the last time there was any adjustment to the income tax. In 1992, Oriole Park at Camden Yards was built for $110 million. Today, it costs more to build a high school than it did to build a professional baseball stadium.
To address this situation, we implemented a number of initiatives.
One was to create impact fees. For years, Baltimore County has been one of the only major jurisdictions in metropolitan Baltimore not to charge impact fees for new development. Impact fees help counties pay for schools, roads and infrastructure needed because of growth.
I co-sponsored legislation with Republican Baltimore County Councilman David Marks requiring developers to pay impact fees for new residential construction. The bill passed with bipartisan support and marks the first time in county history that we have had an impact fee.
For cellphones, the administration’s initial proposal was to apply a $3.50 fee per phone line each month. Again, in a bipartisan effort, the County Council reduced the fee to 8 percent — equivalent to the landline fee. For the average customer, the cellphone tax will be an increase of $1.60 per month on the bill, plus about 80 cents for each additional line. It will apply only to the voice line portion of the bill, not data, text messages or anything else. This amendment reduces the fee by more than 54 percent on a single cellphone line and as much as 71 percent on multiple cellphone lines.
In addition, the council also cut more than $14 million in the budget that was submitted by the administration, marking the first time in a generation that the council has made any significant cuts to the budget.
These actions will help the county make up some of the revenue that was lost when the State Senate failed to pass a major school construction bill (HB727 — the Build the Learn Act, which passed overwhelmingly in the House of Delegates, 133-3) that would have provided the county with $400 million over the next four years.
We need to address the needs of our schools. Bedford Elementary School does not have air conditioning. Summit Park Elementary has 10 trailers. These are not conditions that are conducive for our children to learn. We also need planning and design money for a new Dulaney High School and Towson High School. Many 2nd District families are zoned to Dulaney and Towson.
Our children can’t continue to suffer any longer. Our crumbling, overcrowded schools must be addressed, and I believe the County Council’s bipartisan actions are a major step in the right direction.
Councilman Izzy Patoka
Baltimore County Council