Tough economic times have brought drastic measures in some other cities, like layoffs, huge tax increases, cutbacks in police and fire departments, even bankruptcy.
So Annapolis should consider itself lucky, having weathered the recession thus far without resorting to major cutbacks or raising taxes, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins said as the City Council approved his $36.8 million budget Monday night.
The budget for day-to-day expenses increases spending 3.4 percent, adding police officers and expanding recycling efforts, while keeping the property tax rate $1.80 per $100 of assessed value.
"We have been very, very fortunate in the city of Annapolis," Hopkins said. "There's an awful lot of cities in trouble, and I'm trying to avoid trouble.
"This budget is a very tough budget, but we're going to have to learn to live pretty much within our means."
Alderman Carl O. Snowden, however, protested the spending plan until the end, sayingcuts in city bus service would hurt poor and elderly residents the most.
Snowden, the Ward 5 Democrat, abstained from voting on the budget. He said he could not vote for the plan in "good conscience" because it included no money to make up for $64,000 in state budget cutsthat would halve city bus service.
The alderman said he was particularly concerned about city plans to cut the number of Saturday buses from four to two.
"Who rides the buses on Saturday? It's people who absolutely need that transportation," Snowden said, drawing applause from about two dozen residents who had gathered in City Council chambers for the debate and vote.
Snowden failed in a bid to cut the city's public information and tourism budget by $46,000 to restore the Saturday service.
But he won assurances from Hopkins that the city would not cut Saturday bus service before returning to the City Council for approval.
Snowden said he would await the resolution of the bus service issue before deciding whether to change his abstention to a "yes" vote.
State money for the city bus service could berestored June 26 at a special session of the General Assembly. But that is by no means certain amid a budget crunch that already threatens many state transportation projects.
Transportation in the state's capital consumed most of the two hours of debate on the budget.
Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, joined Snowden in urging bus service be fully restored but suggested no specific cuts to do so.
"It'snot what we would like to have, it's what we need to have," Gilmer said. "And we're going to put a lot of people in a bad position."
Other alderman said the city needs to scrutinize its transportation system, market it better and push more aggressively for support from the county and state, whose employees often rely on city buses.
"We need to make a stronger case for ourselves," said Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8. "Do we get our fair share? No."
Alderman Dean Johnson, I-Ward 2, added, "We have just cut ourselves very, very deeply. In spite of a lot of requests (for more state and county help), we have been ignored."
The council approved the budget, 7-0, with Snowden abstaining.
Hopkins' lean budget holds the line on most city spending while adding five police officers and five police communications officers and expanding curbside recycling citywide.
The spending blueprint for the budget year beginning July 1 emerged from the council's finance committee virtually intact.
Except for the police department, the plan freezes hiring citywide and imposes across-the-board cutbacks for other city departments.
City employees also will be deniedcost-of-living pay increases but will continue receiving merit and longevity raises. Hopkins abandoned plans to double employees' share of health insurance.
The mayor also restored $18,000 for a drug counselor and $2,500 that had been cut from the city's $5,000 contribution to the Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.