A Better Budget Process

A Better Budget Process

As a taxpayer, I have complained for years about giveaways to developers and the stress that runaway growth puts on schools and local services.

As I prepare to become Anne Arundel’s next county executive my concerns remain, but my focus has shifted to process. How we create our budget matters.

Solicit public input.

Voters passed a charter amendment in 2016 requiring the county executive to hold two public hearings before presenting a budget. Steve Schuh opposed the amendment and held no hearings. Instead he hosted two events where citizens could speak one-on-one with department heads, pick up brochures, and visit privately with the executive. No data on spending or revenue were provided, and no public forum took place.

The result was a budget so out of touch with the needs of our communities that citizens mobilized in large numbers against it. The executive had to modify his budget twice, and then observe as the county auditor and a county council majority cut the fat from his operating budget to hire desperately needed teachers. Listening first works better.

Hear from those who challenge you.

Steve Schuh was challenged a lot during his first budget process. He had promised in his campaign to lower property taxes 3% and to kill the stormwater management fee, but was told later by the Republican-led county council and county auditor that those promises were fiscally irresponsible.  

Rather than acknowledging defeat and working to improve relationships, the executive isolated himself, setting in motion a series of decisions in later years that were viewed by many as revenge against the individuals and groups that had challenged him, including teachers, firefighters, the auditor, Democrats, and individual council members.

One group that never challenged Steve Schuh’s budget was developers. They and their agents had 19 of the 22 seats on his Planning and Zoning Transition Committee, and appreciated the large cut in utility connection fees that went into their pockets, even as home sale prices rose.

My point is not that Schuh is a developer’s pawn. It’s that he spends too much time listening to people who share his views. That’s what causes blunders like the budget allocation of $22 million to buy a rubble landfill from a major campaign contributor. Same goes for the $36 million tax break to Live! Casino Hotel Conference Center.

Recently, I invited myself to speak to the county chapter of the Maryland Building Industry Association, knowing that I would be challenged on my development views. We had a good exchange of ideas, and I assured them that when I am elected they will have a seat at the table, just not all the seats.

Budget toward a shared vision.

Our county can either “continue with its pro-growth agenda,” as proposed in Steve Schuh’s recent fundraising solicitation, or plan fiscally for a future that preserves the natural beauty and quality of life that our county is known for. We need to better understand the costs and benefits of each approach.  We need to look at the numbers.

One of my first official acts as county executive will be to launch an audit of the fiscal impacts of past development projects, including their effects on schools, roads, public safety, and every county service that must meet the needs of a growing population.  It will be the year of the General Development Plan, and the new fiscal data will drive our land use and development decisions going forward.

My own business experience is as a family farmer and founder of nonprofit institutions with long-term missions. We always budgeted toward a vision of where we were going. That’s what’s lacking in Anne Arundel County.

Putting communities first is our campaign slogan, and to me that means all communities.  A transparent, inclusive budget process that moves us toward a shared vision for the future of our county is well within our reach. Let’s do it. 

Posted on 16 Jun 2018, 01:47 - Category: Campaign News

By Authority of Friends of Steuart Pittman, VIrginia Clagett Treasurer
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