City budget backs raises for workers '94 spending plan also would keep current services

April 14, 1993|By Eric Siegel and Michael A. Fletcher | Eric Siegel and Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writers

Baltimore would continue to provide its current services and give its workers their first pay raise in three years under the preliminary budget plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The plan -- to be submitted to the Board of Estimates today -- calls for the city to maintain its property tax rate at $5.90 per $100 of assessed value and keep its 4 percent growth cap on the assessment of owner-occupied houses and apartments.

It also calls for a reduction of 353 positions in the city's 26,487-person work force, which officials said they hope to achieve through attrition and retirements rather than layoffs.

Reflecting the Clinton administration's increased emphasis on urban programs, there is an anticipated increase in federal aid of $15.8 million. Included are $1.6 million to expand the federal Head Start program; $10.6 million for several health programs, including AIDS treatment and prenatal health; and $4.8 million in new aid for housing.

But the increases in federal funding are partially offset by a $6.1 million decrease in federal money for education -- the result of a loss of Chapter 1 funds for disadvantaged youths because of a reported Census decline in the number of youths living below the poverty line.

The proposed budget does not include money for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's proposed increase in the city's piggyback income tax from 50 percent to 52 percent of the state income tax rate. That proposal would raise $4 million to pay for putting an additional 120 police officers on the street and would cost the average city taxpayer an estimated $18 a year. If approved by the City Council, money raised from the piggyback rise would be added to the budget later.

Overall, the fiscal 1994 budget calls for about $2 billion in spending -- an amount virtually identical to that authorized in the current year's budget.

Included in that figure are $1.926 billion in operating funds -- an increase of $58.4 million, or 3.1 percent, over the current budget. That money is more than offset by a decrease in the capital, or construction, budget of $69.9 million -- the bulk of which is made up of federal and state funds for the support of the Christopher Columbus Center that would go directly to the project and not flow through the city's budget.

"We should be able to maintain the same level of services that we're currently providing," City Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher said yesterday.

Because of cutbacks in previous years, Mr. Gallagher said, "we in essence reduced our base. There really isn't much in the way of diminished services."

Any increases are earmarked largely for anticipated pay raises for workers. For example, the budget for city schools, which accounts for 42 percent of the city's operating budget, contains an increase of $33.9 million. But Mr. Gallagher said money for "modest" pay increases for the schools' 8,700 full-time equivalent workers were "built in" to that figure.

"It doesn't buy any more. It will probably maintain the current level," he said.

Mr. Gallagher declined to specify what percentage of salary increase the budget anticipated, citing current negotiations with several unions. But the city firefighters recently negotiated a new pact calling for raises averaging around 2 percent and Mr. Schmoke said last month that other unions could expect raises in that range or less.

City Council President Mary Pat Clarke yesterday called the budget "a good start."

But Ms. Clarke, who sits on the Board of Estimates, said she would push for a 5-cent decrease in the property tax rate.

Such a decrease would cost the city about $4 million in revenue, Ms. Clarke said, but is necessary to make the city more attractive to middle-class property owners.

The city had passed two 5-cent decreases in the property tax rate as part of a long-range plan to bring property tax rates, by far the highest in the area, below $5 per $100 of assessed value. But officials decided to put off any further increases in the past two years because of declining state aid.

"I'm looking for the will to cut [the property tax rate]. Where there's a will there's a way," Ms. Clarke said.

Although the property tax rate remains unchanged under the proposed budget, the budget assumes a slight rise in property values. It calculates that the average annual property tax bill will rise $15, from $1,019 to $1,034.

The flatness in the fiscal 1994 budget reflects a corresponding leveling of revenues generated by property and income taxes.

Property tax receipts are estimated to be $478 million in 1994 -- an increase of just three-tenths of 1 percent over 1993.

Income tax receipts are expected to be $123.7 million -- an increase of just 1.7 percent. The minuscule growth is a result of the lingering effects of the recession and the weak recovery, officials said.

According to the preliminary budget, state aid for basic and compensatory education is estimated at $278 million, an increase of $25.7 million, or 10.2 percent, over last year.

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