Group urges more funds for libraries Supporters speak at budget hearing BALTIMORE CITY

April 28, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Baltimore residents got a chance last night to put in their 2 cents' worth on the city's proposed $2 billion budget for fiscal year 1994.

About two dozen people showed up to voice their concerns at the Board of Estimates' annual "Taxpayers' Night" at the War Memorial Building at 101 N. Gay St.

All but two of them came to plead for more money for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, which has had to cut hours at the central library and branches because of recent budget cutbacks.

"We want library services returned to us. We want the central [library] opened on Fridays and Sundays all year. We want the books and materials budget doubled," said Jane Shipley of Charles Village, a member of a grass-roots group that supports the library.

Under the proposed budget, the Pratt will receive $14.2 million from the city, an increase of $750,000 over this year, but more than $1 million less than library officials requested.

David Yaffe, another member of the Pratt library group, told the Board of Estimates that an additional $500,000 would allow the Pratt to provide full service at branches citywide, while another $600,000 would let the Pratt Central reopen on Fridays.

Many of those who spoke in favor of increased funding for the Pratt wore T-shirts proclaiming, "For Once, The Library Doesn't Want You to Be Quiet."

They also read excerpts from thousands of letters collected at various branches from users who wrote Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke telling how the Pratt has helped them.

The night's first speaker was Daniel J. Loden, president of the Baltimore City Homeowners' Coalition for Fair Property Taxes, who complained that the "promise of a continual reduction in the exorbitant property tax rate seems to have come to a dead halt."

The city's property tax rate, which stood at $6 per $100 of assessed value five years ago, was lowered in two decreases of 5 cents each to the current $5.90. That is still more than twice the $2.865 rate in Baltimore County.

Mr. Loden said that the city should reduce its property tax rate another 10 cents to $5.80 and maintain the piggyback income tax rate at 50 percent to make it more attractive for middle-class families to live in the city.

Noting that the city has lost more than 170,000 residents in the past decade, he said, "If we could bring back only 10,000 families with joint family income of $45,000 a year, that would mean $11.25 million in additional piggyback income tax alone."

Mr. Loden's group -- an active participant for the past four years -- staged a "symbolic boycott" of the event to protest what it says is a lack of significant progress in making government more efficient and lowering the property tax rate.

While he read a statement, other members of the group stood on the steps of the building, holding signs proclaiming, "Where's the Pork? In the Budget" and "Bring Costs Down, Security Up."

Mr. Schmoke wants to raise the piggyback income tax rate -- calculated as a percentage of the state income tax -- from 50 percent to 52 percent. He says the higher rate, which would take effect Jan. 1, would raise $4 million a year to hire 120 more police officers.

Opponents of the increase concede that more officers are needed, but they want to pay for them with savings from the budget, not higher taxes.

The proposed fiscal 1994 budget includes $1.9 billion in operating funds and $146.1 million in capital, or construction, money. It provides for maintenance of current services and the first pay raise for city workers in three years.

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