Piggyback increase stirs council doubts 3 'neutral' members asking questions

June 11, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Several Baltimore City Council members questioned yesterday the need for an increase in the piggyback income tax rate and reacted scornfully to a proposed alternative to the tax that would increase revenues by raising a waste surcharge fee.

Among those raising questions were three council members who were previously publicly neutral toward the proposal of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to raise the piggyback tax -- a percentage of the state income tax -- from 50 percent to 52 percent to pay for 120 additional police officers.

"What are you doing with the money you have?" Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th, asked budget officials at a hearing before the council's tax committee.

"I don't know why this city gives a department head a free house to live in. It shows a lack of respect for other people's money," added Ms. Spector.

That was an obvious reference to the city-owned house in Clifton Park provided to recreation and parks Director Marlyn J. Perritt, which was mentioned in recent news accounts that Ms. Perritt had been observed commuting from a home she owns in Prince George's County to her office here.

Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, expressed concern that, although the increase in the piggyback might raise $4 million next year, Baltimore could eventually lose money because higher taxes could accelerate suburban flight.

And Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, D-3rd, while agreeing that more officers were needed, said the money to pay for them should come from personnel cuts in other departments.

"If we need four million bucks, how come the Department of Finance hasn't made agency cuts? That isn't a lot of money," he said.

Maj. Steven A. Crumrine, the Police Department's fiscal director, said that the number of violent crimes in the city had increased from 16,500 in 1980 to 21,800 in 1992. But he said that the number of police officers during that time had declined from 3,172 to 2,967.

The 120 additional officers the piggyback increase would pay for would be spread equally among the six councilmanic districts, Maj. Crumrine said..

After the hearing, Councilman Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th, chair of the committee, said he would likely bring the piggyback bill to the council floor next week, but he predicted a close vote. He said he was undecided about how to vote.

"It's almost an insurmountable dilemma," he said. "Increased taxes is anathema. But the purpose of public safety is the most attractive of all reasons for a tax."

Earlier, Mr. Murphy was among those deriding an administration bill to increase the waste-disposal surcharge at landfills and incinerators to $10 per ton from $7.50 and broaden the surcharge to include composting facilities. Budget officials said the bill could provide $3.3 million a year and said it was developed in response to the council's desire to have an alternative to a piggyback tax increase.

But Mr. Murphy called the bill "badly flawed" and questioned whether the Schmoke administration wanted the measure enacted or just wanted to demonstrate the difficulty of developing alternative revenue-raisers.

The bill was sharply criticized by representatives of haulers, the BRESCO resource recovery center and the Baltimore Ferst recycling company. They argued that it would reduce the competitiveness of local companies, discourage recycling efforts and increase illegal dumping.

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