As 2015 comes to a close, WMAR is taking the opportunity to catch up with some of the county executives from around the area on the state of their counties.
The following is a brief Q&A with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz.
For more on the state of Baltimore County watch the video above.
WMAR: What do you identify as the biggest challenge facing your county in 2016?
Kamenetz: Baltimore County has the third largest public school population in Maryland. We invest a majority of county tax dollars in education — 52 cents of every county dollar. Our biggest challenge for 2016 is securing state funding to support the County’s Schools for Our Future program, a $1.3 billion, decade-long commitment to upgrading our school facilities and eliminating overcrowding in our classrooms. The County has stepped up with 69% of the funding, with 31% requested from the State. We need adequate support from the State’s capital budget to provide our students with quality learning environments.
WMAR: What would you identify as a “win” in your county that people might not know about?
Kamenetz: Baltimore County has not raised the County property tax rate in 27 years or the income tax rate in 23 years. We have done this while funding a highly-ranked education system and providing resources for public safety, infrastructure, open space and recreation facilities that maintain our high quality of life. Responsible budgeting also maintains the highest bond rating from all three Wall Street rating agencies. We’re one of only 42 counties in the country to receive Triple Triple-A bond ratings. So when the County borrows money, our good credit score lets us borrow at the lowest interest rate, saving taxpayers millions of dollars in interest payments.
WMAR: Are there any new plans for 2016?
Kamenetz: Baltimore County already is ranked #7 among large U.S. counties for effective use of digital technology to serve citizens. In 2016, we will expand the ways we use technology to increase efficiency, improve the ability for people to access County services, and enhance local government transparency. More forms and applications will be available online and information will be easier to find as our award-winning website continuously analyzes user feedback. People can expect additional user-friendly services, such as the recent addition of email notices of due dates for library materials and expanded access to e-books from the Baltimore County Public Library. A countywide broadband expansion project is underway to connect 146 schools, libraries and other government facilities, giving Baltimore County a faster, more reliable network with ten times more bandwidth at about one-tenth of the cost.
WMAR: What are some of the biggest needs or challenges in your county’s education system?
Kamenetz: Eighty percent of Baltimore County public schools are more than 40 years old. Our school population is projected to increase by more than 9,300 students from 2010 to 2020. The County is in the midst of a $1.3 billion Schools for Our Future program that is building new schools and additions and bringing needed upgrades and renovations, including air conditioning, all across the County. Two-thirds of education funding comes from the County, with one third coming from the State. If the State will accelerate its funding, we will be able to have 100% of the County schools air conditioned by 2019. This aggressive investment in the “bones and infrastructure” of education will provide modern, safe and comfortable learning environments for our children.
WMAR: Describe the status of your county’s water, roads and sewers. What are your plans to improve, repair and/or maintain the infrastructure?
Kamenetz: With more than 600 square miles of land and over 200 miles of shoreline, Baltimore County is the largest county in the metro area. Our infrastructure is equally large.
With most of the Beltway in Baltimore County, drivers will continue to see a lot of construction, particularly near major projects in Parkville, Liberty Road and Catonsville/Arbutus. These multi-year projects are funded with state and federal transportation funds. While there will be slow-downs during construction, these improvements are critical since they maintain roads, re-build aging bridges, add lanes and ultimately relieve congestion along the region’s major commuter highway.
In 10 years, the County has invested $600 million to renovate the sanitary sewer system. The County will invest an estimated $900 million more by 2020, improving 3,151 miles of pipe, 58,000 manholes and 117 pumping stations.
We’re the only county in the state making money from our recycling program. In its first two years, our single stream recycling facility has brought in $4 million in net revenue.
Below is a graphic outlining how Baltimore County is maintaining our roads, from repaving to street lights, signs and water mains. The graphic was prepared by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council.
WMAR: What is the biggest public safety issue facing your county? What is your plan to address it?
Kamenetz: Crime in Baltimore County is at its lowest rate since the 1970s. Total crime is down by a projected 18% and most violent crimes are down by 29% since 2006.
Developing relationships with the community is the most important thing we can do in terms of public safety. We are working very hard to build on the positive relationship that our police department has with the community, focusing on reaching groups that traditionally may not have contact with a police officer. A $7.1 million pilot body camera program protects citizens and police. A new, more fuel efficient police fleet and technologies such as mobile hot-spots and field-based reporting are improving operations. While we have made significant progress in recruitment and promotions, our commitment to diversity continues. More than $600,000 has been budgeted for outreach programs to increase minority recruitment in our police department.
WMAR: If you had to describe your county in one phrase, what would it be?
Kamenetz: Baltimore County-- leading by example.