Marks: Council Finishes the First of Three Milestones

Editor’s note: this post was submitted early last week. Due to technical issues, we just got it posted today.

By the end of the year, the County Council will have dealt with three major issues: the budget, redistricting, and rezoning. This week, the Council finished the first of these, deliberation of the Fiscal Year 2012 county budget.

The Council unanimously passed a $1.5 billion budget for Baltimore County that largely focuses on core priorities, such as education, public safety, and infrastructure.
There is no property tax rate increase and no income tax rate increase. By trimming unfilled positions, the county workforce is now the smallest in a quarter-century. By comparison, many other jurisdictions are raising taxes and furloughing employees.

That’s not to say it’s a perfect budget. Like many of my colleagues, I strongly opposed the Superintendent’s plan to cut teacher positions—but the Council can only delete, not add, to the budget request. I am also concerned about where we may find ourselves in two or three years. The budget dips into our reserves by $61 million. We don’t know when the state will shift teacher pension costs onto the counties, which will make matters worse.

But overall, I thought this was a fiscally disciplined budget that deserved support from the Council, and I applaud the County Executive for his emphasis on downsizing and efficiency.

The second major project for this Council is redistricting. As required by the charter, the Council created a commission to recommend changes to the lines of the seven districts. I expect the Council to receive a map in June, and for the whole process to be finished by August.

Once redistricting is over, the Council turns its attention to the Comprehensive Zoning Map Process. Rezoning is a Councilmember’s most important responsibility. A Councilmember can rezone any property in his or her district, and that decision affects all land use and development activity for the next four years.

I have been involved in four rezoning cycles. It is a difficult and often emotional process, one I take very seriously. I’ll be holding a meeting in June so residents and community leaders can understand the timetable for the 2012 rezoning cycle.

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