Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hinted yesterday that he may propose an increase in the city's "piggyback" income tax to fund a budget increase being sought by officials of the cash-starved Enoch Pratt Free Library.
"I think improving the Pratt is one of the strongest arguments for increasing the piggyback," Mr. Schmoke said.
Library Director Anna A. Curry yesterday said that despite a proposed 12 percent increase in the library budget next year, the library system needs even more money to offer an acceptable level of service.
Without more money, she said, two branches shut for renovations -- Patterson and Govans -- would have to remain closed because there would be no librarians to staff them. The library system consists of 28 branches and the central library.
Overall, Ms. Curry said, the library system needs an additional $3.8 million to be able to provide the types of services that officials feel would raise it from the bottom tier of public library systems.
The additional money, which would raise the system's total budget from the proposed $18.5 million to $22.3 million, would allow the system to buy an addition $3 million worth of books and other materials, restore full-time service to all of its branches and hire more children's librarians.
The money would also allow the Pratt to offer more direct services to city public schools, which typically have anemic library collections.
The additional money "would just put us at the median level" for other big city library systems around the nation, Ms. Curry said. "It would make us competitive."
Ms. Curry's presentation was backed with applause from several dozen library supporters who attended the Board of Estimates budget hearing to press the library system's request.
But Mr. Schmoke at first challenged her to identify how the city could pay for the increases. He also offered to provide 30 school system librarians to the Pratt.
"Where do we get the money to fund the needs budget?" Mr. Schmoke asked.
Already, he pointed out, the city's budget for next year calls for Baltimore's 26,000 municipal employees to endure a second straight year without cost-of-living raises, although they will receive longevity increases.
"Do you think meeting the needs of the Pratt would justify raising the piggyback tax [5 percentage points]?" Mr. Schmoke asked. He later answered his own question by saying it well might.
Already, Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has proposed increasing that jurisdiction's local income tax or piggyback from 50 percent to 55 percent of the state income tax. That proposal faces an uncertain future in the County Council, and Mr. Schmoke has said that he does not want to raise the city's income tax if Baltimore County doesn't do likewise.