Anne Arundel County Executive James Lighthizer proposed today to increase the county's operating budget in the coming fiscal year by nearly 10 percent, to $462.1 million, while reducing property tax rates.
Lighthizer also proposed an 18.4 percent increase in the capital budget, to $104.4 million, up from $88 million this year.
He said an increase of $41.4 million in the operating budget is needed to pay for additional teachers, police officers and firefighters, and to resurface county roads. Lighthizer trimmed by more than $19 million the $254.6 million requested by the school board.
Lighthizer said the county can afford to reduce tax rates from $2.57 to $2.54 for every $100 of assessed value because property values have risen, and with them, property tax revenue. The additional revenue will pay for the proposed budget increase, he told the County Council.
The average annual property tax in the fiscal year starting in July should increase from $865 to $900, he said. If property tax rates are not cut, the average homeowner will pay around $911 for the year. No increase in water, sewer and garbage rates was proposed.
Lighthizer said the county is in good financial shape.
For instance, he said, it will pay for more than $7 million in road and construction projects with cash up front, rather than by borrowing money on the bond market, as is traditionally done. That will mean "enormous savings in interest costs" and "long-term tax relief," he said.
County Council members, who must vote on the budget by June 1, generally praised Lighthizer's proposals but said they haven't studied them carefully yet.
The council can cut the county executive's budget proposal but cannot increase it -- except for school expenditures, and then by no more than the school board has requested.
Lighthizer called for school spending of $235.5 million, more than 51 percent of the total county operating budget, and an 8.8 percent increase over last year.
It would pay for 92 new teachers, rather than the 140 requested by the school board, and would include a 6 percent salary increase for school employes negotiated three years ago. Teachers now earn an average of about $29,000 a year.
"We have focused this budget appropriately on front lines -- classroom teaching, materials of instruction and the creation of an atmosphere most conducive to learning," Lighthizer told the council. School enrollment is expected to increase by 1,000 pupils this fall, to 65,000.
An additional $19 million in the capital budget is proposed for school renovation and construction, including $6.8 million for a new elementary school in Shipley's Choice, near Severna Park.
Environmental programs proposed by Lighthizer include $4 million for park acquisition and renovation, $2.3 million in storm drain improvements and the dredging of many silted creeks.