From Ryan Burbey:
Over the past several years the gaps between the prosperous and the needy in Harford County have become even more pronounced. The budgetary cuts, which have been imposed by the Craig administration, have almost unilaterally affected those with the least in our county, while simultaneously rewarding those with the most. Over the past four years, the real estate tax rate, which is the primary source for school funding has decreased from 1.082 to 1.042. Likewise, the impact fee, which funds new school construction and school maintenance, has been cut in half. During this time, four new schools have been constructed in affluent areas of the county with only one being constructed in the less affluent areas. While these trends are not new, it is becoming increasingly clear that county fund allocation is not being distributed equitably. Poor and middle class families are increasingly being asked to carry a larger share of the burden, while receiving none of the added benefits.
First, let’s look at the real estate tax rates and impact fees. This reduction in revenue has zero benefit to any person or family who does not own property. Those who rent their home still are subject to the same income tax rate. Likewise, average rent in the county has not gone down with the lower tax rates. In fact, the average price for rent has risen steadily throughout Mr. Craig’s term in office. Real Estate rate reductions only really benefit those who own large tracts of land, those who own extremely valuable real estate assets and large-scale business owners. Sure, middle class families are paying lower taxes on their homes but it amounts to about $120/$100,000 of assessed value/year. That only amounts to about ten dollars per month. Likewise, farmers are paying slightly less for their land but this could have been accomplished without the enormous reductions in revenue, which the mileage cut has caused. Similarly, small business owners have also benefited, but again they could have been given tax-breaks, which would not put our revenue structure under constant strain. At the same time, the Craig administration spearheaded reductions to the impact fee, which is used to fund new school construction and capital improvements. Cuts to the impact fee only benefit developers and will ultimately result in higher taxes for the average resident.
The Craig administration has also enacted massive cuts to the social support network by cutting funding across the board to all facets of government. Some may not notice these cuts but I guarantee you that the county workers, who lost their jobs, had their wages cut or are paying more for their health care certainly did. These folks are middle class and poor. Many can’t afford a home and did not benefit from real estate tax cuts. You may not have noticed the reduction in resources at the library, but I am sure library patrons and librarians have. You may not have noticed the lack of funding for school repair but I assure that the folks in Aberdeen, Edgewood, Joppatowne and Joppa have.
Likewise the parents at Youth’s Benefit, William Paca, or any of the seven schools, which are over 50 years old, have. Many of these folks are middle class and poor. Many of these families can’t afford to purchase a home or move and depend on our County Government to properly fund schools, providing not just the funds for on-going maintenance but also program improvement and operations.
The most pronounced dangerous and lasting effects of the Craig administration’s misplaced priorities lie in school funding. Despite revenues returning to nearly the same amount as pre-recession levels, 608 million currently versus 617 pre-recession, he has frozen school funding. Despite numerous new schools opening and many expansions in educational programming, designed to benefit the children of Harford County, he has refused to increase school funding and has demonized the Board of Education, Superintendent and teachers’ union. Despite having an enormous fund balance, which could easily fund improvements to schools, he has refused to open the county coffers to provide a quality education to your children, the students of Harford County.
We cannot allow this kind of crony capitalism to continue in our county. While many may brand me a liberal and discount my views as advocacy for “big government”, I can tell you that my observations do not have a political root. I seek equity for the children and citizens of Harford County. I ask you: Is it conservative to pursue hundreds of millions of dollars in bond debt, which will further deplete future funds for education and school construction, while simultaneously refusing to pay county workers and school employees their negotiated wages? Is it smart policy to fund additional construction to your jail, while schools and county infrastructure are crumbling? Does a fiscally responsible County Executive constantly funnel funds through tax breaks and pet projects to an elite group of developers?
We must stop this madness. Demand that your County Executive enacts policies, which benefit all of Harford County, not just his developer friends. Demand he fully funds your schools, libraries and social-support networks. Demand that Mr. Craig put the needs of the citizens of Harford County ahead of his own selfish political aspirations.