Schmoke drops income tax rise Move will cause city to scale back plan to hire police and firefighters

December 08, 1992|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,Staff Writer

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday withdrew his proposal to increase the "piggyback" income tax for city residents by Jan. 1 -- a move that forces the administration to scale back its plan for hiring 233 more police officers and 100 more firefighters.

Mr. Schmoke said last night he would attempt to find money elsewhere in the city budget -- including from layoffs of other city workers -- to pay for at least part of the increased police and fire protection.

But the mayor acknowledged the public safety effort would have to be scaled far back from what he had proposed and would slow the city's community policing program.

Mr. Schmoke said he would continue to shrink government by merging city agencies -- such as he did this year with the Department of Public Works and Department of Transportation -- laying off workers and reducing services to city residents. While he said he could not be specific, he did say the reductions in service would not be to the police or fire departments.

He said he would be able to put some additional police officers on the street this year and was counting the remaining portion of a one-time $3 million state grant to fight violent crime to pay for the officers. The state, in an earlier round of budget cuts, reduced that grant by 25 per cent, but the city has yet to see the remainder of the money, he said.

Also, by holding the line on equipment purchases and deferring maintenance on city buildings, Mr. Schmoke said he would be able to pay for a new fire recruit class of about 30 after the first of the year.

Lacking the City Council votes to get the piggyback tax proposal passed, Mr. Schmoke said he did not have plans to reintroduce the plan, but he added, "If the state continues to cut us, at some time we will have to bite the bullet."

The Schmoke administration, still reeling from cuts of $33.6 million in state aid since July 1, was pressing for the local income tax increase to beef up the cash-poor city's public safety efforts by hiring the firefighters and police officers. The additional officers were characterized last week as the cornerstone of the city's new community policing efforts.

The mayor's plan would have generated $4.3 million in revenue for the city in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, and another $10.2 million in the fiscal year that begins July 1, finance officials said at a council hearing last week.

With the additional money, the city could have hired 120 police officers this year -- integral to launching the department's new community policing program -- and another 113 officers next year.

The added revenue also would have allowed the hiring of 100 firefighters to eliminate the department's current practice of staffing apparatus with three firefighters, instead of four, officials said.

"While there is general agreement on the need to enhance public safety services, there is not strong support for increasing the piggyback tax as the mechanism to achieve our public safety goals," Mr. Schmoke wrote the council yesterday, asking to have the bill withdrawn.

Mr. Schmoke wrote Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, chairman of the council's Taxation and Finance Committee, which was considering the measure, that the administration would continue its "efforts to reorganize and downsize government and to use savings from these measures to improve public safety," but he offered no specifics.

City budget director Edward J. Gallagher, however, wrote to the council last week about the increase in fire and police protection, saying, "These two critical needs cannot hope to be met in fiscal year 1994 [which begins July 1] without utilizing this additional revenue source.

As committee chairman, Mr. Murphy would have had to send the bill to the council floor last night in order to have it considered in time for possible passage by Dec. 31, when the city was required to notify the state comptroller of a piggyback tax increase in order to receive the tax revenues from the first six months of 1993.

By withdrawing the proposal yesterday, Mr. Schmoke eliminated what could have been an embarrassing defeat for the administration.

"There never appeared to be enough votes for passage of the bill, so it made moving it to the floor moot," Mr. Murphy said. "They correctly concluded the votes aren't there.

'Too much, too quickly'

"A major concern is the . . . the speed with which they had to consider the bill," the chairman said. "It was too much, too quickly."

But, he added, "it would not surprise me to see this issue revisited in the spring. I don't know if it would be more palatable then, but it could hardly be more objectionable."

At the city's request during a special legislative session to deal with the state's budget crisis, the Maryland General Assembly approved legislation Nov. 19 that allowed the city to increase its piggyback tax, effective Jan. 1.

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