On March 26, District 5 did not disappoint for the budget town hall that I had the pleasure of co-hosting with County Executive Steuart Pittmann. Just over 250 residents came out to hear our remarks, review a short presentation and then present their priorities to us. Those priorities, in no particular order, were:
Based on the county executive’s presentation that evening, the county is estimating an additional revenue increase of $40 million to $50 million for Fiscal Year 2020. This is down from previous estimates of just over $57 million. The Board of Education has a budget request that is $90 million more than the Fiscal Year 2019. This is but one of our funding areas, but it is our largest with the Board of Education being just over 50 percent of the county budget. There will be other critical department budget requests. In addition to the critical first responders listed above, detention officers and county personnel will also have financial needs to operate their departments. You can quickly see why a handful of residents and individuals representing special interest groups were supportive of tax increases.
Most people know that Anne Arundel County has one of the lowest tax rates in the state. It’s one of the reasons we are such a desirable area to live in. We have a property tax cap limiting the tax the county can collect on your property that passed by referendum in 1994. I ran on my support of the property tax cap because it was overwhelmingly supported by the voters of the county, or it wouldn’t exist.
The Department of Legislative Services has suggested raising the income tax from 2.5 percent to 3.2 percent, which could cost households as much as $700 per year. To some, this may be a drop in the bucket, but not to all. It is easy to label us as one of the “wealthiest counties” in the state. That label doesn’t show the details of the large income gap between wealth and poverty in our county. When you knock on more than 4,000 doors like I did, you meet your constituents where they are. You hear their stories. You hear how retirees who raised their families here are struggling to stay in our county on a fixed income. You hear about the families who are living paycheck to paycheck due to circumstances beyond their control and are one more tax away from being forced out of their home after living in this county for generations. I cannot forget their stories and that I represent them too.
What concerns me is that no one has really discussed that there are historical indicators that a recession may be in our near future (one to two years). The most telling sign is the consistent low rate of unemployment. We should be making responsible fiscal decisions that are sustainable.
I am fiscally conservative, and I make no apologies for it. I feel an awesome sense of responsibility to act thoughtfully with your tax dollars. I will prioritize based on your input and the input of those who make our county run day to day, and with caution for potential economic changes in our future.