Anne Arundel County Executive Stewart Pittman declared the county very strong, by most measures, in his December State of the County address.
In 2023, the county earned its first AAA rating in history from all three major bond rating agencies, and Pittman noted that median household income had risen to more than $108,000.
Nevertheless, he recognized that a third of county residents have limited assets and are income constrained.
There is a bright point in the county’s unemployment rate, currently at 1.9%.
“The business interests that used to support cuts in anti-poverty programs are now asking government to rebuild the workforce,” 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.”
Housing and services
Amy Gowan, president and CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., also addressed the county’s economic challenges at the Central Maryland Chamber’s Economic Forecast event in November and said housing, transportation and childcare have emerged as the biggest problems that residents faced.
AAEDC partnered with the Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corp. and the county’s Partnership for Children, Youth and Families to conduct a Childcare Summit in September to discuss challenges and barriers and identify solutions.
“We should be putting out a white paper based on the results of that,” Gowan said.
According to Pittman, Anne Arundel now has 1,550 affordable housing units in the pipeline, four times the number it had five years ago.
“If our Essential Worker Housing Access Act bill passes, all new developments of more than 10 units will include homes that are affordable,” he said. “We will also address exclusionary zoning laws … that prevent builders from constructing the missing middle housing that would help integrate our neighborhoods.”
Pittman’s 2024 budget, passed in June, also creates a dedicated funding stream for the County’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund by raising the transfer and recordation tax on property transfers of more than $1 million.
The adjustment is projected to provide $7.5 million in fiscal 2024 for eviction protection, affordable new construction, and buyer assistance, with Arundel Community Development Service managing the program.
On the education front, the county’s Budget Office used savings to fund an $8,000 raise for starting teacher salaries, which resulted in a 50% reduction in teacher vacancies compared with last year.
The county’s Latino population has doubled in the last 12 years, Pittman said, comprising 10% of residents and 17% of students.
“That’s why we’ve implemented language access plans in all public facing departments and will pursue creation of a multicultural center where people can connect with jobs, education and services,” he said.
Schools and workforce
This year, Anne Arundel County updated its school Adequate Public Facilities ordinance to allow more housing where it is needed and remove requirements for retail development where there’s no market for it, Pittman said.
The Anne Arundel County Office of Planning and Zoning will also be working on a rewrite of the county’s Land Use Code in the near future.
Change has also come to the county’s regulatory agencies, through the launch of a digital Land Use Navigator tool in June that improves transparency, accountability and efficiency in terms of zoning administration and zoning enforcement.
In workforce development, the county invested $5 million this year in a team that works inside middle and high schools to provide more information and experiences about careers.
The county is also working to advance business development, he added.
“We created some flexible underwriting for small minority businesses that have gone through the accelerator program like the Inclusive Venture Program,” Gowan said. “It was wildly successful and will be graduating 100 businesses by the end of this year. All of them are in the small, women, and minority owned categories.”
Participating businesses receive a cash flow analysis and have access to financial assistance as well as mentors who help with human resources, tax and other questions, she explained.
Pittman included funding to support and expand the county’s crisis response system in his 2023 budget proposal, and also committed funding to help keep Arundel Lodge’s new Behavioral Health Urgent Care Center at Luminis Hospital operating when it was denied an expected federal grant.
His 2023 budget also includes $3.5 million to restore a building on the Crownsville Hospital Memorial Park campus to become a nonprofit incubator.
“The Crownsville Health and Wellness Center will house emerging nonprofits, offer services to residents of the treatment centers operating nearby, and be a temporary home for the county team that will manage the restoration of the site,” Pittman said.
“The state of Anne Arundel County is strong because we are building the foundation for our future,” he said. “We are building the foundation of healthy people prepared for the 21st century, and we are building the foundation of nature and buildings that can exist in harmony with one another.”