By Steuart Pittman
Information is empowering. I want county residents to be informed and engaged. And I’m not the only one.
We just released our transition report and one of the things woven through many of the recommendations is the desire among county residents for access to information, more opportunities for public participation and a chance to help shape decisions.
I think this is great news. I was elected on a promise to engage citizens and to listen. Putting communities first is more than a slogan – it’s a framework for how this administration will approach governing. In fact, we organized our entire transition team around committees based on communities: safe communities, healthy communities, thriving communities, empowered communities, educated communities, sustainable communities and responsive government.
More than 200 volunteers invested more than 5,000 hours of time creating the report. There are 63 broad recommendations and 298 action items. Recommendations included adding some key management positions within county government, increasing staffing levels for teachers and public safety personnel, adopting new technologies to improve efficiency, increasing community engagement and instilling better collaboration among departments and partners.
You can find the 20-page summary report, and all of the subcommittee reports, on our county website at www.aacounty.org/departments/county-executive/transition/index.html.
I’ll be considering these recommendations when I put my first budget together, which will be introduced on May 1. I also want to hear from you. For the first time, the county is holding a series of town hall budget meetings to hear from citizens before budget decisions are made. These meetings represent your opportunity to tell me about your budget priorities and what’s important to you.
The county budget is large – more than $1.6 billion – and complex. To help citizens understand the components of the budget, we have created a webpage that gives you some tools to help you prepare your testimony. You can see the approximate costs of certain county personnel, like teachers, firefighters and zoning inspectors. The budget tool also shows you how much an ambulance, a senior center or an elementary school costs.
Everything has a cost, and we have to figure out how to pay for it. To add something to the budget, do we make cuts elsewhere, or find reasonable ways to raise additional revenue? The tool gives you the ability to make these choices as well.
And we have some tough choices to make. Our county population has grown by 10 percent in each of the most recent decades, and our student population has grown even faster. Fire and EMS calls are growing by 5 percent each year. Despite years of promises to hire more police, we have the same number of sworn officers that we had four years ago.
In parts of our county, traffic is unbearable. We have road and infrastructure needs far beyond what we have funding to support. In 2009, developer impact fee rates were set artificially low and we have since lost $107 million of funding for road improvements. We can’t afford to continue that.
Anne Arundel County is the best place, but to stay that way, we need the best schools and the best government services. As a community, we must decide what we want from our government and how we want to pay for it.
Please use our budget tool to consider our needs and then consider the revenue sources. Compare us with neighboring counties. And then tell us what you think. I hope to see you at one of our upcoming budget town hall meetings.
District 5 - County Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler
Tuesday, March 26, from 6:00pm to 8:00pm
Severna Park High School auditorium
60 Robinson Road, Severna Park