January 8, 2024
As the 2024 Maryland General Assembly prepares to convene its three month session on Wednesday, the threat of state budget cuts, along with the drying up of federal COVID money as well as inflation are teaming up to create a rocky budget year not just for Baltimore County but for localities across Maryland.
“You put all of that together and it’s going to be a much more challenging budget cycle for us,” Baltimore County Johnny Olszewski said. “It really is in some ways the perfect storm of presenting some challenges.”
While not ruling out a tax increase to help the county get through a tough budget year, Olszewski said that should always be “the last option as we consider our budgets.”
State officials began painting a gloomy picture in December.
They warned that transportation projects could be delayed and commuter bus service and road repairs could be cut because of a more-than-$3 billion hole in funding the state’s six-year transportation plan.
Lawmakers were told the state has a $761 million budget shortfall.
Also in December, Maryland Gov. Wes Moore warned local officials of a worsening budget picture at the Maryland Association of Counties’ (MACo) annual meeting. Olszewski is the current president of MACo.
“I look forward to using this role as a chance to really be at the table to share the concerns of my peers and colleagues across the state so that whether it’s transportation, or public safety, or things like transparency in education funding,” Olszewski said.
Baltimore County Council Chairman Izzy Patoka said the state has been warning local officials to brace for a difficult year.
“Whenever the state has a tough year, then that trickles down to local jurisdictions,” Patoka said.
One of Baltimore County’s proposed transportation projects that is on the chopping block is an interchange at I-795 and Dolfield Boulevard in Owings Mills. County officials for years have asked for funding for the interchange. Olszewski said it’s been their #1 transportation priority.
“We finally had that project funded last year,” Olszewski said. “The thought of losing that is concerning not just to me but to local and state legislators here in Baltimore County.”
The county is also bracing for cuts to its locally operated transit system, which runs the free CountyRide and Towson Loop services. Olszewski was hoping to bring local bus service like the Towson Loop to Middle River and Owings Mills.
“It’s certainly going to be hard to expand, let alone sustain our locally operated services without additional state support, “Olszewski said.
Olszewski said he will be asking state legislators to find money for county projects such as replacing the Essex police precinct building and trail improvements at Oregon Ridge Park.
The last several budget years have been fat ones for Baltimore County. A strong economy combined with localities awash in federal COVID dollars allowed Olszewski to spread money around on projects throughout the county.
Baltimore County received $160 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to help it respond to the effects of the COVID pandemic. All but $3 million of that has now been spent or allocated. All of the money has to be committed by the end of this year.