The Anne Arundel County government will hire 66 new firefighters and 84 new teachers, and gave raises to all employees, as part of a $969 million operating budget that sailed through the County Council on Thursday with hardly any opposition.
The new budget, which takes effect July 1, bolstered funding for public safety, reduced the property tax rate by 1.4 cents per $100 of assessed value and provided the county Board of Education with all of its $440.7 million budget request.
The budget outcome was far less dire than County Executive Janet S. Owens (D) had warned it might be. In the past, she had complained that a revenue cap that limits the county's flexibility in changing the tax rate was suffocating the government's ability to pay for services, and she suggested that the county might need to increase fees in order to make up the difference.
Owens attributed the smooth process to steadier-than-expected funding from the state government and an unanticipated $15 million surge in property transfer revenues.
"We were saved in that the revenues were so much better than we ever expected," Owens said. "That made it so much easier."
"It was a shock for everybody that we didn't have those draconian cuts that Mrs. Owens thought were coming," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle (D-Linthicum).
This year's budget process was easier than last year's, when Owens attempted to freeze the salaries of most county employees. The move was bitterly opposed by teachers and police officers, and ultimately the County Council voted to grant raises.
This time around, the only council member to oppose the budget was Barbara D. Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis), who argued against the budget partly because it did not include funding for a new fire station on the Annapolis Neck peninsula, a part of her district.
"This year, everybody held true to what they said," Owens said. "We were on the same wavelength."
Fire Department Hiring
The Annapolis Fire Department must address issues of "sexism, racism, nepotism and cronyism," said Carl O. Snowden, the co-chairman of a task force formed to look at minority recruitment and retention in the city agency.
In a report written last week and given to Mayor Ellen O. Moyer (D) Tuesday, the task force found that "there is no evidence of any meaningful commitment to minority recruiting, promotion or advancement within the ranks of the Annapolis Fire Department by the leadership of the Department."
It criticized departing Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr. for presenting no program geared toward recruiting minorities and noted that, of 23 officer promotions made in the last 17 years, one woman, two African American men and one Asian man had been promoted to lieutenant.
The report also said that minority advancement was hindered by a "family shop" atmosphere, in which 14 percent of the force was related by blood or marriage.
The report called for the fire department's leadership, which will change when Sherlock moves to a new position as the city's director of emergency preparedness, to commit people and money to minority recruiting and to broaden opportunities for their promotion. The task force also asked the mayor to force the department's leadership to create a plan of action for addressing the recommendation.
The mayor, who has staunchly defended Sherlock's record, said she had "hoped for a little bit more examination" from the task force, but endorsed the idea of hiring a consultant to look at hiring practices within the department.
"You want someone that is independent and has eyes to look in many different directions without a political agenda," she said.