The Baltimore County Council signed off on the county executive’s nearly $4.9 billion budget on Thursday, a spending plan that does not raise property or income tax rates but adds money for public schools, parks and public safety.

Council members voted unanimously to approve the budget, with only one minor tweak to what County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. proposed.

“We kept executive’s budget essentially intact,” Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, said in the council’s budget address.

“Although we do not agree with the allocation of spending over every agency and every capital project, we generally have faith in the investments being made by the administration,” Jones said.

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Olszewski, a Democrat, issued a statement thanking council members for approving his budget largely unchanged.

“This budget strengthens our new standards of excellence and reflects our values, making historic investments in Baltimore County’s people, communities and infrastructure,” the county executive said.

Homeowners will continue to pay property taxes of $1.10 per every $100 of assessed home value. And the local income tax rate will remain at the state’s maximum of 3.2%, after Olszewski Jr. and the council raised it to that level in 2019 from 2.83% to close holes in the budget that year. Water rates, however, will go up by 4.9% starting July 1, which equates to about $16.91 more per year for an average household of four.

Spending priorities

About half of the county’s budget goes to the public school system, and the amount of education spending is an increase over the last year — but about $4 million less than school officials had asked for.

The budget has enough money to bump up the starting salary for public school teachers from about $53,000 to $59,000, pending negotiations with the teachers union. The state’s multiyear education improvement program, the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, calls on school districts to get starting salaries up to $60,000 in 2026.

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The budget also expands eligibility for the College Promise program that provides free community college classes to residents in any household making less than $150,000 per year who are enrolled in full-time or part-time credit classes or noncredit career programs.

County government employees will receive a cost-of-living adjustment of 4%, which the Olszewski administration says is the biggest pay bump in three decades.

And there’s also money set aside toward building a new police station in Essex and fire stations in Catonsville and Sparrows Point, as well as $5 million more toward redeveloping the old Security Square Mall.

The budget includes about $695 million set aside in reserves, according to the executive’s office, a robust savings account that’s well above the county’s guidelines. The county government continues to hold a coveted triple-A bond rating, meaning that the government pays lower rates on money it borrows for construction projects.

Council cuts 0.1% of budget

The County Council can only cut money from the Olszewski’s proposed budget; members are not allowed to reassign funds or add money to the budget.

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Last week, council members took a scalpel to the budget, making one small cut representing about 0.1% of the total.

Council members voted to cut $500,000 from the school system’s administration budget, which will still see an increase of $2 million over last year even with the cut. The proposal came from Councilman Wade Kach, a Cockeysville Republican, who said the $500,000 could be better spent on student support services.

Kach was supported by fellow Republican members Todd Crandell of Dundalk and David Marks of Perry Hall, as well as Democrat Mike Ertel of Towson. Three Democrats voted against the cut: Jones, Izzy Patoka of Pikesville and Pat Young of Catonsville.

Council members also initially voted to nix $2 million to help pay for temporary structures at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills for the 2025 BMW Championship professional men’s golf tournament, before reversing course.

Councilman Todd Crandell, a Dundalk Republican who pushed for the cut, said he thought the spending was “an irresponsible expenditure of taxpayer dollars” for a private event at a private golf club — especially considering the event was run in 2021 without a county subsidy.

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“They can afford to fund their own tournament,” Crandell said during last week’s meeting.

The $2 million cut initially passed 4-3, but later in the meeting Ertel asked for a revote, saying he “wasn’t completely clear” on the vote. On the revote, Ertel flipped his vote restoring the money to the budget. Republicans supported the cut and Democrats were opposed.

The budget governs spending in the school system and county agencies for a 12-month period starting July 1.

This story has been updated to correct a miscalculation by Baltimore County. The average cost of water bills for a family of four will increase by $16.91 a year.

Pamela Wood covers Maryland politics and government. She previously reported for The Baltimore Sun, The Capital and other Maryland newspapers. A graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, she lives in northern Anne Arundel County.

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