Housing Prices, Education Are Anne Arundel County’s Top Concerns

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Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, on Tuesday delivered his state of the county address. Pittman is pictured above on a different day. (Jacob Baumgart/Patch)

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD - Anne Arundel County's top goals are improving housing prices, education and workforce development.

County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) on Tuesday shared his plans to address all three in the annual state of the county address. Pittman also outlined his plans to address public transportation, parks and gun violence.

Pittman did not mention taxes in his speech. Patch asked for his future tax plans, but we are still waiting for a response.

Housing Prices

Pittman has been most vocal about housing prices in recent weeks. 

He's backing a County Council bill that would require new developments of more than 10 units to build moderately priced housing for lower-waged workers.

That push for housing relief continued in Pittman's speech, which was pre-recorded with segments filmed at the sites of key county projects

"With the average apartment rent creeping toward $2,000 a month, and the median single family home selling for $470,000, nobody can deny that a crisis is brewing," Pitman said at Brock Bridge Landing, where moderately priced housing is being built for 38 families below 60% of the area's median income. "But we must do more."

Pittmans said the county has 1,550 affordable units in the pipeline, four times the number there were five years ago. 

Related: Affordable Housing Could Be Required In New Anne Arundel County Neighborhoods

The latest affordable housing bill is called the "Essential Worker Housing Access Act of 2023," but anybody who meets the income requirements can qualify for the housing.

If passed, new developments with more than 10 units must designate 15% of rental units and 15% of for-sale units as moderately priced housing. 

Some developments with 10 to 19 units could avoid this requirement by donating to the county's housing trust special revenue fund. Any single-family community with at least 10 detached homes could also make this donation instead of building moderately priced housing.

Pittman said these rental units would need to be affordable for those making 75% of the area's median income, which is $62,156 annually for a single person and more for families.

He said the units for sale would need to be affordable for those making 100% of the area's median income, which is $82,875 annually for a single person and more for families.

The proposal, also called Bill No. 78-23, is posted here.

Education

Pittman wants affordable homes for families and strong schools for their children.

He highlighted the Anne Arundel County Public Schools redistricting process that finished last month. Though 6,400 students must change schools, the plan will reduce overcrowding in some of AACPS's most strained buildings in North County.

The county executive also cited an $8,000 raise for starting teacher salaries in this year's budget for fiscal year 2024, which began on July 1, 2023. That raise lifted the county's entry-level teacher salaries from 19th to top-four in Maryland, he said.

This school year started with 50% fewer teacher vacancies than last year, Pittman added.

"No institution has more impact on creating the infrastructure for a sustainable economy than a school system, and ours is on the move," Pittman said. "Lifting students from a childhood of trauma to engagement and economic opportunity requires good staff and good facilities. We’re investing in both, and our superintendent, our school board, and county government are in alignment."

Workforce Development

After students are educated, they need jobs to keep the economy churning.

The county currently has a 1.9% unemployment rate, which is below the national unemployment rate of 3.9%.

There are currently more job vacancies than workers in Anne Arundel County, so Pittman said businesses need help finding employees.

"The business interests that used to support cuts in anti-poverty programs are now asking government to rebuild the workforce, from the bottom up," Pittman said. "They are asking for government to invest in housing, childcare, education, transportation, public safety, and health. They want immigration, and they want reentry programs. They can’t afford for the economy to leave people behind, because they need people."

Pittman is taking a long-term approach to fixing the county's worker shortage. His plan starts with kids, who are the future of the workforce.

Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation launched a $5 million program this school year to connect students with career information and experiences.

Working families also need help with daycare, which can be costly.

Pittman applauded the 51 childcare centers operated at below-market rates by the Anne Arundel County Department of Recreation and Parks. The county needs more private providers, however.

The county executive also said a 200-person childcare summit in late September got the wheels turning on further action. He teased an upcoming executive order to help address childcare needs.

"Building out a sustainable network of quality childcare providers not only allows parents to enter our workforce, but it delivers kindergarten-ready kids to our school system. That builds the foundation for our future," Pittman said.

Pittman also mentioned a workforce reentry program that helps former inmates find jobs after incarceration. The state government recently awarded nearly $1 million in grants to this reentry hub at the Ordnance Road Correctional Center in Glen Burnie.

Public Transportation

All those workers need transportation to get to their jobs. Pittman is targeting roadway, bikeway, pedestrian and public transit improvements.

Pittman said the county has "agreements in place with the state to address the worst car traffic bottlenecks."

Now that county buses are free to ride, there has been increased usage. A transit center planned at Westfield Annapolis mall could further increase ridership. New routes and electric vehicles are also in the works.

There's a new app called Passio Go that tracks a bus's location and estimated time of arrival. Plus, all county buses now have free Wi-Fi and some bus stops have solar panels with device charging ports and accessible seating.

"No foundation for a sustainable economy works without safe, efficient, and affordable ways for people to get where they need to be," Pittman said. "We’re also making progress on a connected and complete bike and pedestrian trail system, with progress underway on the South Shore Trail, the Broadneck Trail, and soon the BWI Spur Extension."

Recreation And Parks

Residents need places to relax after work.

That's why Pittman said the Recreation and Parks budget has grown by 70%. There are currently 51 projects underway.

GORC Park just got a $5 million renovation with new fields, pavilions and parking. 

A few miles away, a new Odenton Library Community Park is set to open in 2025. The $8.3 million site will have pickleball courts, a playground and walking trails. An eventual Phase Two will bring an amphitheater and a dog park.

Pittman is also excited about the upcoming Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park. This park will soon convert a former psychiatric institution into a green space with a nonprofit center.

Pittman called the Crownsville Hospital Center a"tainted jewel at the heart of our county." He noted that the park is still in the design phase and that it will receive state and federal funds.

"Public areas for play and exercise, and for experiencing the healing power of nature, don’t happen without investment," Pittman said. "The urgency of this work has grown, as we’ve come to understand the impacts we face from climate change. With our new Resilience Authority fully engaged in financing this work, more projects that harness the power of nature are coming."

Gun Violence

In the wake of this summer's mass shooting in Annapolis, Pittman is especially concerned with gun violence.

He expressed frustration with a federal court for overturning a state gun law last month. The court ruled that the law violated the Second Amendment because it required residents to pass a background check and take a gun safety class.

Anne Arundel County still has some gun violence reduction efforts underway. 

Despite a lengthy court battle, the county's gun shops are now required to distribute suicide prevention information to customers. County libraries are distributing free gun locks. Violence prevention teams are also addressing shootings in Annapolis neighborhoods.

"We have too many guns in our county. Teenagers have them. People who want to overthrow the government have them. And now in Maryland it’s a whole lot easier to get a permit to carry them in public places. And that makes us less safe," Pittman said. "It used to be that local governments had the authority to regulate firearms, but we don’t anymore. We do what we can, and in Anne Arundel County we do more than most."

Residents can watch Pittman's full speech or read his remarks at aacounty.org/state-of-the-county.

Taxes

Income tax rose for the wealthiest workers in the fiscal year 2024 budget, which passed this June. Property taxes went up for everybody. Taxes on home sales jumped for the most valuable properties, and the hotel tax increased as well. Plus, there's a new 25-cent fee for Uber and Lyft riders.

Patch's full recap of the most recent taxes in this year's budget is available here.

Patch asked a Pittman spokesperson if he plans to change income or property taxes in his next budget proposal. The spokesperson said she expects to have an answer by the end of the week.

Related: Tax Hike, Teacher Raise Approved In 2024 Anne Arundel County Budget

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