With time for an election-year gift to city residents growing short, the Baltimore City Council voted yesterday to make room in the 1992 fiscal budget for a five-cent cut in the city property tax rate, while providing $2 million to hire additional police officers and housing inspectors.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is expected to take the council's lead and recommend a $5.90 tax rate on Monday, when the Board of Estimates meets to set the tax rate for fiscal year 1992, according to aides to the mayor.
"Those proposals made a lot of sense: police, housing inspectors and tax relief," said Peter N. Marudas, the mayor's legislative liaison. "Where we are headed for now seems to be a satisfactory conclusion."
The council, which met yesterday to give preliminary approval to the city's $1.79 billion operating budget, is scheduled to meet again Monday to vote final approval of the budget and the tax rate.
Before voting preliminary approval yesterday, the council cut $3.9 million from the budget to make room for the 5-cent tax cut. One penny on the tax rate is equivalent to about $800,000 in
revenues. The council also approved two revenue-enhancing measures to pay for hiring police and housing inspectors.
One of the revenue bills includes a $7.50 per ton increase on the amount the city charges private haulers and other jurisdictions for using the city's incinerators and landfills. The fee increase, whichwas included in a bill introduced by Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, would generate $2.8 million.
A second bill, which also would boost benefits for members of the Employee Retirement System, would make an additional $1.3 million available to the general fund by increasing from 8 percent to 8 1/2 percent the rate of return for the city's pension portfolio that city finance officials could assume in drafting the budget.
City budget chief Edward J. Gallagher said city officials were not guilty of inflated expectations, given the fact that the pension portfolio has been earning in excess of 10 percent in recent years. "The system has been doing much better than that, 10 or so," Mr. Gallagher said.
The Board of Estimates is expected to approve budget supplementals today that contain $1.563 million to hire 50 additional foot patrol officers and $385,000 to hire 18 housing inspectors. The supplementals would then be forwarded to the council for final approval Monday.
By law, the council is required to approve a balanced budget before the next fiscal year begins July 1. Although it normally takes months to recruit, hire and train 50 officers, Mr. Marudas said the city could put the extra police on the street as early as July 1 by paying overtime until additional officers could be hired.
Council members, who have repeatedly accused the Baltimore school administration of ignoring its demands for educational improvements, also voted to cut $1.6 million from the central administration budget. The school system would be able to recover the money through a budget supplemental only if it submitted a plan to redistribute the money away from the central administration and into classrooms.
"I think we need to send a message to North Avenue [site of city school administration] that we want to see further streamlining and reduction of overhead," said Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III, D-3rd, the author of the amendment. "Money talks, and this is sending a strong message."
Carl Stokes, D-2nd, said the council's seven black members banded together to push for additional police officers and housing inspectors as a quid-pro-quo for their support of property tax relief, which has been a larger priority for white council members whose more affluent constituents are harder hit by high taxes. He said blacks on the council were so determined to persuade other council members to join them during the week of budget maneuvering preceding last night's vote that they threatened to help overturn the mayor's veto of a bottle tax repeal bill. Repeal would have cut $6.9 million in revenues from the budget, making it harder for property tax cut advocates in the council -- eager to please homeowners -- to pass an election year tax reduction package.
City budget moves
City Council approved budget moves last night that would:
* Cut property tax rate 5 cents, to $5.90 per $100 of assessed value, costing city $3,937,428 in revenue.
* Add 50 police officers at a cost of $1.563 million.
* Add 18 housing inspectors at a cost of $385,000.
* Generate $2.8 million by increasing disposal surcharge by $7.50 a ton for trash haulers and counties that use city incinerators and landfills.
L *Cut city's contribution to employee pensions by $3 million.