Updated: May 2, 2020
Chris Trumbauer, the county executive’s senior advisor for policy and communications, said March 18, the current state of emergency has introduced an “extreme amount of uncertainty” into the budget process. County Executive Steuart Pittman was counseling caution now from his department heads, he said, working to effectively take into account the crisis during the budget process.
Deliberations for the proposed budget will be undertaken in the weeks ahead, Trumbauer said.
“He (Pittman) is particularly interested in things that agencies can do to help constituents and particularly people in need,” Trumbauer said. “He said that that's a priority. I think we're looking at it in a different lens than we were three weeks or a month ago, trying to look ahead and figure out what is going to be most important for county governments to serve our residents through this prolonged public health crisis,”
In contrast for Pittman and his staff, the month of January was filled with reaching out to local residents of each county council district through seven “2020 Budget Town Halls”. About 50 people attended District Two’s town hall at Old Mill High School’s Media Center on January 16. District Two Councilwoman and county council chair, Allison Pickard, also attended.
Feedback from residents included requests for more athletics fields, more support of the county animal shelter and excitement about upcoming projects.
Pittman received thanks from the public for his support of education and libraries in the county. Volunteers from Friends of Anne Arundel County Animal Care & Control took him to task however, saying that his administration had cut money for animal food at the shelter, leaving them to take up the slack.
“I wasn’t aware of some of the problems that they have in ACC&C” the county executive said in an interview after the town hall.
According to Jaci Kyle, a board member of the nonprofit Friends of Anne Arundel County Animal Care & Control, who spoke at the public meeting, this year’s county budget did not include any of the recommendations for the animal shelter that were recommended by the county executive’s own transition team. The nonprofit group had to supplement the shelter animal’s food supply because of the county’s budget changes.
“(The county) in fact, even reduced the money to feed the animals from $18,000 to $10,000,” she said. “Apparently our generosity led to the county’s shelter food budget being slashed. Friends was created to enhance the shelters abilities to provide excellent care for its animals, not to pay for such basic county necessities as feeding them.”
The county executive did receive high marks from those attending for his support of county schools as well as the district’s libraries. His office’s support for the Old Mill schools’ master plan was cited, and he was thanked for supporting the enactment of more teacher salary steps, which had once been on hold because of the Great Recession.
“Our students have lots and lots of needs,” said Robert Silkworth, a French teacher from North County High School who said he had been teaching for 48 years and lived in the Old Mill area. “I would like to thank you on behalf of the students I represent for your commitment to them.”
Skip Auld, CEO of the Anne Arundel County Public Library, also thanked Pittman for previous budget support.
“We especially appreciate that you have fully funded the Glen Burnie library, the $34 million project that will transform this community for about 100,000 people are served,” he said. “And that project is set to start the design in just three and a half years in the fiscal 24 budget. So that's really tremendous.”
Auld said AACPL was hoping to see a new library built too in Millersville. “There is a great need here.”
Pittman warned that he didn’t see much likelihood of robust funding for supplemental budget requests this year. About 50 percent of those requests were funded last year, he said, but that was not likely to be the case for the coming budget.
The reason he gave for less funding was that more of the counties needs have already been spoken for in this year’s budget because of last year’s changes.
“Even though there’s more revenue we had big growth last year and we can’t grow the government,” he said. “When you hire 98 new police officers you have to keep paying them each year. All of those reoccurring expenses—they grow, they don’t shrink. So not a lot of room for new stuff in the budget.”
One way he proposes to offset that challenge somewhat is to offer new county grants to nonprofit organizations which tend to have smaller financial requests than county departments, he said.
Requests for support of parks and recreation came up multiple times during the town hall too. Athletic fields and facilities were said to be lacking for rec leagues of all kinds.
Tim Morgan, commissioner of Harundale Youth Soccer and a district resident, wants to see the county remedy that.
“We do not have nearly enough facilities in this area for our youth,” Morgan said. “We want to keep our youth engaged in sports. I get it. We’re trying to preserve trees. We’re going to have to make land for these kids.”
Councilwoman Pickard agreed.
“District Two is lacking in our rec and park facilities that aren’t at school(s),” she said “I can count on one hand the number of multi-purpose fields that aren’t at schools, that have lights. That is not the norm all across the county.”
During his presentation Pittman expressed his perspective on leading the county into the next decade.
“I have this theory that government should not be judged, the way some people do, on the size of its tax base or whether it can attract businesses or people from neighboring jurisdictions because we’re better than they are, but really by the health and wellness of the people in the jurisdictions.”
The county executive has until May 1 to present his proposed budget to the county council, which will then conduct at least two public hearings and enact a budget in June.