The Board of Estimates approved yesterday the Schmoke administration's proposed $1.793 billion operating budget for the next fiscal year and sent it on to a Baltimore City Council that is determined to deliver an election-year tax cut.
The budget includes $6.6 million more than the one presented by the administration of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke on April 16. Most of the additional money will go for education and health programs. But the budget approved by the board -- a five-member panel of the city's top elected and appointed officials -- does not include any reduction in Baltimore's property tax rate of $5.95 per $100 of assessed value.
That prompted Mary Pat Clarke, president of the City Council and a member of the board, to cast a loud "no" vote on the recommended tax rate. "It's certainly my hope we'll be able to change that tax level," Mrs. Clarke said. "Our work is just begun."
Also approved was the mayor's proposed $258 million capital budget. Both the operating budget and the capital budget must be passed by the City Council before the beginning of the new fiscal year July 1.
Pressure within the council to reduce the tax rate in this, an election year, is intense. Council members vowed two years ago to try to shave 15 cents from the property rate by this year. But so far, they have managed to cut only 5 cents.
It is doubtful, though, that council members will be able to use for tax relief much if any of the additional $6 million that has become available since the budget was first drafted.
Most of that money will come from additional state and federal aid and is tied for use to specific programs.
"If there is something for visiting nurses or special education, I wouldn't want to tamper with it. That would be a no-no," said Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st.
Mayor Schmoke said the spending package would allow the city to keep its head above water and moving forward. But he said the city wasstill feeling the effects of a federal retreat from support for the nation's urban centers.
The mayor, who thanked city union leaders for their cooperation in working toward a budget-balancing wage freeze, also credited "hard work in the legislature and the governor's leadership on this particular point" with providing relief to the city through the state takeover of the Baltimore City Jail.
Of the $6.6 million in funds not included in the original budget, $1.9 million will go to maintain a nursing program for poor people who need home visits following medical emergencies.
About $3.3 million will go for special education, vocational education and to help underprivileged children keep up in school. Private grants from foundations and other sources will funnel another $979,000 into city programs.
Among the changes to the budget are an additional $1.4 million to the Urban Services Agency budget to continue four day-care programs; $400,000 more to the Enoch Pratt Library to keep open branches that had been threatened with closure; restoration of $150,000 to the Baltimore Zoo; and another $250,000 to the Department of Recreation and Parks to preserve parks and open-space programs.
The council, which will receive the budget Monday in the form of an ordinance, is allowed to cut the budget but may not authorize additional spending.
The council will hold hearings on the budget beginning June 4.