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County Executive Leopold's FY08 Budget Address
Mr. Chairman, Members of the County Council, Cabinet Members, Honored Guests, Friends, Fellow Citizens:
It is a privilege and honor to present a $1.2 billion operating budget and a $3 billion capital budget and 5-year program that are fiscally prudent and socially responsible.
My plan contains no new taxes on property or income. I am proposing a property tax rate of 89.1 cents per 100 dollars of assessed valuation. While this rate represents a 2.7-cent reduction from the current rate, we are, at the same time, maximizing the revenue we can obtain under the tax cap. We have limited the growth in the County budget to 3.7 percent, compared to a growth in personal income of 5.5 percent.
More than $812 million is earmarked for schools, a nearly $58 million increase over last year’s approved budget. This budget includes funding to add 111 new teachers. I have increased resources allocated in every category requested in the school system’s budget except administration.
If we were to take the pulse of our County economy, we would find a healthy patient. Anne Arundel County has become the world’s epicenter of military intelligence and defense-related information technology. We continue to add jobs, and our unemployment rate remains below the state and national averages. For the first time in our history, we have dispelled the notion that a revenue-capped County could never earn the distinction of a AAA bond rating.
I have heard the call from citizens for fiscal discipline and have crafted a spending plan that provides resources to fund teacher and school principal raises, upgrade school facilities, preserve hundreds of acres of land and establish a roadmap for growth and development. A budget must be more than a ledger sheet. It should have a heart and serve as a blueprint for a better quality of life for all residents.
I have made significant reductions in the budget to make government operate more efficiently. In my first four months of office, my Administration identified nearly $10 million in savings, changing the way County government does business. We eliminated redundant bureaucracy. We cut excessive use of vehicles, cell phones and procurement cards. We instituted a hiring freeze, and asked everyone in County government to take on additional responsibilities. My goal is to build a foundation of trust so taxpayers know that the money they take out of their family budget to fund government services is used frugally and not subject to waste.
Our County government grant program, which provides tax dollars to private and quasi-private organizations, should be subject to the same test of fiscal responsibility. Spending for this program has grown by 123 percent in just the last four years to nearly $5 million last year. In many instances, these grants had become political handouts. This budget supports a wide range of worthy organizations with more than $1.7 million while we develop an orderly and objective process for the allocation and monitoring of these taxpayer funds.
Half of this budget is devoted to schools, providing the highest quality education for our children and future workforce. The exact percentage is 49.9 percent, which is the highest percentage of the County budget devoted to schools in the 42-year history of Anne Arundel County charter government. My obligation is to focus on the priorities of classroom instruction, parental involvement and student safety, targeting student performance and eliminating unnecessary administrative costs.
The voters entrusted me to lead and set an example of fiscal discipline. In my first four months in office, I slashed spending in my own office and the Chief Administrative Officer’s Office by 30 percent, and have asked the school board to trim its budget and reduce its bureaucracy by 3.5 percent.
We must also provide the most rigorous programs for our children in order to prepare them for high-wage, family-sustaining jobs that fuel our economy. This year, my Administration is committed to backing the school board’s historic decision to expand the International Baccalaureate Program into three of our middle schools. At the urging of hundreds of parents, teachers and students, I have included funding in the budget for schools to offer this world-renowned program at Annapolis, Meade and Old Mill middle schools. I have provided $200,000 for teacher training as needed for the IB program and other programs.
This budget fulfills my promise to fund a 6 percent raise for teachers and principals. I respectfully urge the Superintendent and school board to consider this money sacrosanct and not transfer these funds to other programs. We face a recruitment and retention crisis for both teachers and principals, and we must resist diverting resources from this priority.
Every child deserves a safe learning environment, and student safety is paramount. This budget fully funds the request to add 12 Pupil Personnel Workers to monitor and provide outreach to truant students. It also adds five school resource police officers to ensure a safe and secure learning environment for middle school students and staff. These Officers will serve as a positive roll model for students.
We have already seen the benefit of School Resource Officers at North County and Broadneck high schools, where crises have been averted. I have directed the Police Department to work in consultation with the school board to determine the most effective placement of these new officers.
With us this morning is School Resource Officer Adam Koch, who is assigned to Broadneck High School. A 15-year-old, 10th grade student was choking in the school cafeteria, and Officer Koch restored the chocking student’s airway and saved her life. Please join me in showing our appreciation to Officer Koch for his service.
As a former member of the National Council on Disability, the Federal Interagency Coordinating Council for Infants and Toddlers and the Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities, I am proud to announce that this budget makes significant improvements to special education programs in our schools and funds all 61 positions requested by the school board. I have fully funded the occupational and physical therapists program, as well as requested speech pathologists and the High School and Middle School Inclusion Program.
Throughout this budget, there are initiatives to help prepare students for learning and provide training for family-sustaining jobs. I have included $200,000 in the Anne Arundel Community College budget to expand the Parenting Center in order to serve middle schools. The budget contains $36 million in County funds for the Community College, a 4.6 percent increase over Fiscal Year 2007.
I have included an additional $198,000 for the AVID program. At Meade High School, all of AVID’s seniors are taking at least one Advanced Placement course. At Broadneck, Glen Burnie, Old Mill, Severna Park and South River high schools, more than 70 percent of the graduating AVID students this year are in the Advanced Placement program.
I am also increasing funding by $100,000 for our Centers for Applied Technology, which provides technical training for students who may not be planning to attend college. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “A man with a trade has an estate.”
Collaborative Leadership Style
I am proud to report that our negotiators have reached agreements with all of our large unions, and County employees will receive raises this year. To all of you who fix potholes, clear downed trees, pick up the trash, process permits, repair water main breaks and perform the thousands of other services to the public, I would like to say thank you for a job well done, and keep up the good work.
I would also like to congratulate and thank our General Assembly delegation for its hard work, securing $27.8 million in state aid for school construction. Because of their efforts, the County has the crucial funding needed for the replacement of Freetown Elementary School and a new Gambrills Elementary School. It also allows for modernization of Lake Shore Elementary School and renovation of Severna Park Middle School, and the addition of a science lab at Arundel High School. I have also provided County funding for a feasibility study for Northeast High School.
The delegation also worked together to help secure passage of four priority pieces of legislation, continuing a program to detect and eliminate radium in wells, reforming the school board selection process for the first time in more than two decades, enabling stricter enforcement of our environmental protection and Critical Area rules and banning panhandling at busy intersections.
I would like to thank the County Council for passing two key pieces of legislation I proposed, instituting daily fines for violating construction permit laws and extending a property tax break for qualifying senior citizens. The average property tax credit in Anne Arundel County under this program will grow to about $1,200.
With continued collaboration with the County Council, I hope to revise an outdated and regressive impact fee structure to help meet our infrastructure needs.Quality of life
I have doubled funding for assistance to residents who upgrade failing well and septic systems. I have also included money to provide free colon cancer screening for qualifying residents. Identifying and treating cancer early should be a top priority to save lives, and a new state ban on smoking in bars and restaurants will go a long way towards prevention of lung cancer and heart disease.
Over the next year, there will be several improvements in public safety. First, we have added additional supervisors and training at our 911 Center to ensure quick, accurate and detailed information to the public as well as first responders. Second, we have initiated a multi-year program to install streetlights in high-crime areas. Third, we have funded 30 new firefighters for the Annapolis Neck Fire Station.
With more than 500 miles of shoreline and scores of beautiful parks in our County, I would be remiss not to point out the recreation improvements in this budget. I have included $2 million to renovate the Quiet Waters Ice Rink. Quiet Waters Park welcomed nearly 50,000 moms, dads and kids in a single winter month; unfortunately, the ice rink was plagued by failing equipment. After three years of closed doors, it is time to reopen for business. The facility should be completed by the winter of 2009.
If your passion is fishing and crabbing, I hope you will join us for the grand opening of the more than 300-foot Ft. Smallwood pier later this month. We have begun a master plan for the 338-acre Fort Smallwood Park/Weinberg property, and I look forward to your input as the discussion advances.
For our thousands of young athletes, I would like to announce that all of our varsity fields will be fitted with safety turf and available for public use. This budget includes $2.2 million to begin the process, and a total of $8.8 million over four years. Broadneck High School parents and boosters have already financed a safety turf field that has become a major attraction, and the County will help them repay their debt for the upgrade.
Three major headaches for motorists will get targeted attention in this budget. Using developer impact fee money, the County will fund the addition of a turn lane at the intersection of Route 100 and Magothy Bridge Road. At Anne Arundel Community College, we will add a turn lane to improve flow onto College Parkway. And in west County, we will improve and expand Town Center Boulevard, adding an access point to this thriving area. This road is an important catalyst to realize the vision of the Odenton Town Center.
We will make a concerted effort to improve our recycling program. Everyone in County government agrees that a rate of 30 percent compliance by residential customers is unacceptable. Our established goal is 50 percent. Customers want to do more but often do not know how. I am adding staff to our department to perform outreach with schools and small businesses to inform them of best ways to implement effective recycling techniques.Planned development and Smart Growth
Our County has reached an important milestone in terms of growth that represents both a challenge and an opportunity. Areas such as Odenton, Parole and Linthicum will blossom with vibrant economic development. A prosperous business climate around Fort Meade and BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport will foster growth and development and expand our tax base, reducing reliance on residential taxpayers. While we must welcome the right kind of growth, this Administration is serious about the strict enforcement of our environmental laws.
There are many exciting projects planned for this County where government will partner with the private sector. Eleven hotels are in the offing for the airport area, which continues to be a major economic engine for the County and State. There are also plans for a conference center, a facility that is sorely needed to house high school graduations and other events.
Anne Arundel County should not be losing government and private sector conferences to other jurisdictions.
Thousands of jobs are coming to Fort Meade as part of the Base Realignment and Closure process. The County has recently been awarded a $1.4 million federal grant that will help us facilitate preparation and planning, and we are aggressively working to make sure that our infrastructure is equipped to handle as many as 22,000 new jobs in the northwest part of the County. Anne Arundel County is leading the Regional Growth Planning Committee in this collaborative effort.
I have also urged the governor to speed up the process of bringing needed transportation improvements to Route 175 in Gambrills, at the epicenter of our future growth. I support extending Metro’s Green Line to BWI.
In this budget I am including $108,000 to apply for a $432,000 federal grant to purchase three buses and add a new mass transit route around Fort Meade. Big ideas are important, but small ways to move toward that larger vision are critical. These buses will be the first to carry the Anne Arundel County name, and I hope this branding will increase awareness about mass transit. We must continue to seek ways to encourage environmentally safe and efficient transportation modes, particularly those that involve regional partnerships to link bus routes to MARC rail service.
In the coming years, BWI will become a transportation center and a model of Smart Growth, where retail, commercial and office space will be concentrated in areas with adequate infrastructure to ease the strain on our roads. This budget contains resources to facilitate and expedite the General Development Plan that sets land use for the County into the future.
My promise is to foster growth in targeted areas, and to keep our farms and forests exactly as they are today and have been for hundreds of years. Keeping south County rural is a priority, not just a slogan.
We must not forget to help foster development of housing that is affordable to our teachers, firefighters, police officers and other middle-class workers. I look forward to working with the Council to initiate a pilot program that would offer density bonuses to developers who set aside workforce housing in new developments. I have provided money in the budget to continue programs that help first-time homebuyers with closing costs and down payments.Preservation of open space and environmental sustainability
Government is a most important steward of our irreplaceable open space, and this budget makes commitments to protect the environment. In the Department of Planning and Zoning, I lifted the hiring freeze to fill vacancies related to completing the General Development Plan. I have also filled ten previously vacant inspector positions in the Department of Inspections and Permits to make sure the Department is more consumer-friendly and equipped to strictly enforce environmental protection laws.
My Administration has already taken significant steps to preserve the Naval Academy Dairy Farm in Gambrills and make the property a park all of our residents can enjoy. The County has also secured 546 acres in Crownsville and is working to secure the remaining pieces of the 1,200 acres around Crownsville Hospital Center.Conclusion
My favorite part of this job is the ability to help people every day. While I was not able to do everything I wanted in this budget, it reflects my priorities and touches people from all walks of life. I respectfully urge the Council to resist efforts to increase spending that would require a tax increase and resist any effort to increase spending within the administrative category of the school board budget. I would also respectfully urge the Council to heed predictions from state leaders that next year will be a very difficult budget year that could include cuts in state aid to the counties. We must do everything in our power to maximize our resources and keep the needs of every citizen in mind as we chart the course of the County for the future.
I want Anne Arundel County to achieve excellence. This is an affluent County that has become the heartbeat of our Nation’s defense. While money is not the only ingredient in the mix, we must have an honest and forthright discussion of what resources are necessary to achieve excellence within the parameters of fiscal responsibility.
I have created a fiscal review task force to move this process forward and identify ways to improve the quality of life for County residents within the framework of spending restraint. As always, I look forward to engaging the citizens of this community to attain this worthy goal and continuing a collaborative relationship with the Council, the General Assembly and our congressional delegation. Working together, we will achieve excellence.