Newly-elected Baltimore County Council Chairman Tom Quirk is looking forward to a more collegial relationship between the council and county executive and no new taxes in the coming year.
"I think 2013 is the year the county executive and the county council work together collaboratively," Quirk, Catonsville Democrat, said, who was elected unanimously by his colleagues.
The relationship between the council and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz has undergone considerable strain. Quirk along with then-Council Chairwoman Vicki Almond, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins, and Councilman David Marks all opposed a pension bill that would have ended the use of overtime in the calculation for pension benefits for some county employees.
The bill was part of an administration request. After the bill was tabled, the four councilmembers complained that Kamenetz retaliated by slashing budgets earmarked for road projects in their respective districts.
Quirk and Marks also drew the Kamenetz's ire when they questioned a $25 million loan from the county Employee Retirement System that would be used to build a new recycling facility.
Looking forward, Quirk said the council will have to continue to deal with difficult budgets.
"We knew when we were elected that the budget was going to be under significant pressure and that will continue," Quirk said. "For a long time the county got used to property taxes increasing because of the 4 percent Homestead Tax Credit and that's not going to happen. We need to figure out how to pay for the programs everyone wants."
That doesn't mean tax increases are on the horizon, he said.
"I don't see any political will from the county executive or county council to have a property or income tax increase," Quirk said.
One way of paying for those programs might come through the redevelopment of older neighborhoods.
Development will be a touchy issue for the freshman councilman who was linked to Steve Whalen in emails that were part of the state prosecutor's case against the Catonsville developer last week. Whalen pleaded guilty in Baltimore County Circuit Court last week to five counts of violating state campaign finance laws for funneling $7,500 to Quirk through his personal trainer, an employee and a friend in so-called illegal straw donations.
Quirk cooperated with the prosecutor and was not charged with any wrongdoing but the emails highlighted a relationship between the developer's fundraising efforts for Quirk and the councilman's oversight of projects proposed by Whalen.
Quirk, who is often referred to as the most liberal member of the council, downplayed some concerns that he'll push a political agenda once now that he's chairman.
Last year Quirk sponsored a transgender anti-discrimination bill. Within weeks of being sworn in, Quirk sponsored legislation expanding the speed camera program in the county.
"I'd definitely say I'm a proud progressive but I'm also a very very fiscally careful," Quirk said. "Democrats have an obligation to be fiscally responsible because we believe government can help people. We have to make sure every tax dollar is spent as best as we can."