O'Malley wants promised tax cut

April 19, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Jim Haner | JoAnna Daemmrich and Jim Haner,Sun Staff Writers

In the latest volley in the heated Baltimore budget match, City Councilman Martin O'Malley called on the Schmoke administration last night to follow through on its promise and come up with the savings needed for a property tax break.

Even though the majority of the 19-member council has expressed support for a 5-cent tax cut, only a handful sided with Councilman O'Malley's measure.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke, who clashed with the mayor over tax relief last year, did not co-sponsor the nonbinding resolution and later said she did not intend to pick a fight over a nickel.

"This is the mayor's year to honor his commitment," she said after the council meeting. "It is not a thumb wrestle. I'm interested in getting a program of tax relief implemented that will continue through the years. If the mayor cannot manage an affordability agenda, then a nickel is meaningless."

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke sparked the small furor by challenging the council to show him the savings or cuts in services required to reduce the city's property tax rate, which, at $5.90 per $100 of assessed value, is the highest in Maryland.

Last year, he promised that he was "committed" to reducing property taxes after a bitter battle with the council over a proposed 5-cent break. But the mayor has warned that a decline in tax revenues from downtown office buildings and utilities precludes a tax break in this year's $2.2 billion budget proposal.

Mrs. Clarke, who intends to challenge Mayor Schmoke for the city's highest office next year, expressed annoyance last night. She said she cannot identify savings because she has not seen the complete budget.

"The mayor has the power to do that. To send us after this or that item is to send us running in circles," she said, adding that she hopes to find enough savings to allow some sort of tax break, whether it be "3 cents, a nickel or 7 cents."

Councilman O'Malley, also complained that he had not seen more than a summary of the budget. However, he suggested three areas for reform: cutting the central school administration, reducing trash collection from twice to once a week and using the $750,000 in savings from the end of the city's use of the Pulaski Highway incinerator.

Council Vice President Vera P. Hall sharply criticized the resolution by the freshman Democrat from the 3rd District as "the height of irresponsibility."

"The very folks who get up on the council floor and say we want to do more with public safety are the very ones who get up and want to do something without even seeing the budget," said Ms. Hall, D-5th.

The money set aside to bolster police protection in crime-weary Baltimore is clearly sacrosanct to all council members. Mr. O'Malley and others who plan to seek a nickel tax break are quick to say the police budget should not be cut.

In a hearing before the Board of Estimates earlier yesterday, Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier received only cursory questioning of his request for an extra $1.7 million to pay for new uniforms, a new police academy facility and maintenance costs for 95 new police vehicles.

The department had asked for another $9.2 million over the $192 million recommended by the city's Budget Office. But Col. Steven A. Crumrine, the department's fiscal director, said most of that amount is contingent on whether the city authorizes pay raises for police and oth er civil servants next year.

Keeping faith with Mayor Schmoke's promise to add 240 new police officers by 1997, the budget includes $2 million to hire 60 more officers next year.

After the hearing, the new police commissioner said that he had not submitted a "wish list" of things he'd like to have, but rather stuck to the budget already being prepared when he arrived.

"If anybody wants to know what I'd really like, it's more cars," he said. "I'd like to replace the whole fleet. It's one of the department's biggest day-to-day problems. Our fleet stinks."

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