Revised budget approved Council's reversal maintains tax rate, allots police funds BALTIMORE CITY

June 29, 1993|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

Making a 180-degree turn, the Baltimore City Council voted decisively yesterday to approve a fiscal 1994 budget that maintains the current property tax rate and provides money to hire 60 more police officers.

The 15-4 vote for the new budget came after the council voted to uphold Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's June 21 veto of a council-passed spending plan that would have cut $4 million in capital projects and cut a nickel off the city's property tax rate of $5.90 per $100 of assessed value.

In vetoing the measure, Mr. Schmoke said the city could not afford to provide property tax relief and increase police officers this year.

The council reversed itself during a marathon special session that drew a standing-room-only crowd to the council chambers. The meeting was marked by periodic confusion as the council attempted to grapple with procedural questions raised by what legislative historians said was the first mayoral veto of a city budget since 1901.

After its passage by the council, the budget was immediately accepted by the Board of Estimates, which controls the city's purse strings, by a 4-0 vote with one abstention.

The abstention belonged to City Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who had made an unsuccessful last-ditch attempt in the council that would have allowed the property tax to be reduced to $5.85.

Mr. Schmoke, who controls three of the board's five votes, said he recognized the need for cutting the property tax rate but that the need to provide more police was paramount.

"Sometimes we can't do everything at the same time. We've got to make choices. The choice has been made in this budget. I'm pleased," Mr. Schmoke said.

Mr. Schmoke said he was "committed" to reducing the city's property tax rate -- the highest by far in the state -- in the fiscal 1995 budget by a minimum of 5 cents.

But Ms. Clarke, who said last week that she thought the board was violating the city charter by not holding a hearing on the mayor's new budget, criticized the final document and the process by which it was reached.

"This has been a very difficult week for all of us, perhaps unnecessarily so," she said. "I would hope in the future we would not have to teeter-totter on the edge of the charter."

In addition to Ms. Clarke, council members who voted against the budget yesterday included John L. Cain and Perry Sfikas, both D-1st, and Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd.

They were joined by Councilman Martin O'Malley, D-3rd, in voting for a key amendment on a batch of new cuts in capital programs proposed by Ms. Clarke that would have provided money for the nickel cut in the property tax rate.

On June 17, the council voted 14-5 in favor of a similar package of cuts that made the $5.85 rate possible. On that date, those voting against the cuts were Councilwomen Vera P. Hall and Iris G. Reeves, both D-5th, and Sheila Dixon, D-4th, and Councilmen Joseph J. DiBlasi and Melvin L. Stukes, both D-6th.

Yesterday, nine council members who voted for the cuts on June 17, changed their positions and voted to scrap them. They are:

Nicholas C. D'Adamo, Jr., D-1st; Paula Johnson Branch and Carl Stokes, both D-2nd; Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham and Martin E. "Mike" Curran, both D-3rd; Lawrence A. Bell III and Agnes Welch, both D-4th; Rochelle "Rikki" Spector, D-5th; and Timothy D. Murphy, D-6th.

Yesterday, only seven council members supported Ms. Clarke and voted to override Mr. Schmoke's veto of the council-passed budget -- far short of the 15 votes needed to override.

The vote to uphold the veto began the council's six-hour special session and sparked the most debate.

"In the years I have been here, I have never changed my vote. But from the calls I've received, public safety is our first priority," said Ms. Welch, explaining why she now supported the mayor's budget.

After the council passed its version of the budget last week, the mayor said the council members had failed to provide money for extra police. Yesterday, some council members criticized Mr. Schmoke for misinforming the public, saying the council had kept the money in the budget.

The new budget that was approved yesterday will reduce the city's contribution to the Police Department and Fire Department retirement fund and use the savings to hire more police.

The cut in funding for the retirement fund drew criticism from a representative of the city's police union during a public hearing that followed the council's vote to uphold the veto.

Detective Gary W. McLhinney of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 3, said it was "unconscionable" to reduce contributions to the retirement fund without providing additional benefits to widows and survivors of retirees.

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