Bleary-eyed Anne Arundel County Council members approved a $772.7 million budget early yesterday, ratifying County Executive Janet S. Owens's proposals to boost spending on schools, roads and public safety.
The council's unanimous action will increase county spending on schools by $29.3 million, or 9.6 percent, for the fiscal year beginning July 1, as well as allocate $40 million to address an estimated backlog of $440 million worth of needed school repairs.
There will be no change in the county property tax rate, local income tax rate or water, sewer or landfill fees under the new spending plan.
Final approval didn't come until 2 a.m. after a day of haggling between Owens (D) and the council. It was the first time that Owens and six of the seven council members had approved a budget. Afterward, Owens said she was tired but pleased.
"Education is the highlight here," she said.
"We did super well for the schools," agreed council member Cliff R. Roop (R-Arnold).
Owens's budget will pay for 67 additional teachers, 20 of them to reduce the size of first-grade classes. It also will fund 22 technicians to teach children how to use and maintain computers. The county's road resurfacing budget will be increased by two-thirds, to $5 million, and spending on the police and fire departments will be increased by $2.9 million, or 2.6 percent.
Owens defeated Republican incumbent John G. Gary in November after campaigning on a platform emphasizing improved schools. The approved budget boosts education spending by postponing two planned libraries and trimming 60 county jobs through attrition.
The ability of Owens and the council to fund the schools and their favorite projects was limited by a countywide cap on property tax revenues, Owens said.
"The tax cap came home to roost," Owens said.
Roop said the budget would force the county to economize. "This year, people [in government] are going to get their business skills tested, which is as it should be."
In an action that pleased local business representatives, the council rejected efforts to block a new road in Science Park, a busy office area off of Riva Road and Route 50 in Annapolis. Barbara Samorajczyk (D-Annapolis), the council's most ardent advocate of curbing development, submitted a series of amendments to block the $1.8 million road expenditure. All failed on 6 to 1 votes.
"It's a good day for the business community," said Bob Burdon, president of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel Chamber of Commerce, which strongly supported the road. "This road was our priority."
The council also sliced more than two-thirds of a $1.1 million land acquisition fund that is controlled solely by the county executive.
Before leaving office, Gary used the fund to make two land purchases that benefited contributors to his campaign. The council allocated $330,000 to the fund.
"The voters want us to get control and make sure their money is spent in an accountable way," said council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman (D-Glen Burnie).
Owens also secured approval of one of her favorite programs: to spend $3 million to purchase and preserve agricultural land in the fast-growing county.