City Council fights county over cuts to Annapolis

May 26, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

Annapolis officials wrestling with revenue shortfalls as they prepare their fiscal 1995 operating budget, are complaining that Anne Arundel County is doing them wrong by cutting its contributions to the city budget and increasing its demand on city taxpayers.

And they offer a variety of reasons why this is happening, including election-year posturing, political revenge and personal agendas.

"Historically there was tremendous tension between the city and county," said Annapolis Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, a Ward 8 Democrat and head of the City Council finance committee.

The drop in contributions and increase in fees can be traced to former Annapolis alderman John Hammond, who is now the county's finance officer, she said.

Mr. Hammond, the former finance committee chairman, wants to merge city and county governments, she explained.

"John spent an awful lot of time in the city. He knows where the city is most vulnerable," she said.

Mr. Hammond, however, denied that personalities or politics have played a role in the county's budget demands.

"To infer that personalities are driving this is so offensive as it doesn't dignify a response," he said.

County officials, meanwhile, said the changes are simply prudent fiscal management.

Since January, the county has:

* Cut the tax on boat slips in half, costing the city $265,000.

* Eliminated a $70,000 contribution to the city bus line.

* More than doubled fees for the city to use the county landfill.

* Raised the city's water treatment plant fees by more than $51,000.

* Increased the property taxes that city residents must pay to the county by 11 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Some alderman trace the deterioration in city-county relations to last fall, when Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins, who was running for re-election, enlisted Gov. William Donald Schaefer's help in defeating a plan to expand the county detention center on Jennifer Road outside Annapolis.

The move angered County Executive Robert R. Neall, who had been pushing for a new detention center, aldermen speculate.

"Bobby [Neall] felt he was stabbed in the back," said Wayne Turner, a Ward 6 Republican. Until then, the executive had been a "true ally," he said.

"That was the clear catalyst for when it started going downhill," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat.

Before that, the relationship between Mr. Neall and Mr. Hopkins had been considered the best between city and county leaders in 20 years, Mr. Snowden said.

Mr. Neall could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr. Turner said he believes city officials need to try to make amends with the county to prevent further deterioration in relations. Such efforts, however, will be too late to do any good for this year's budget.

City officials now are trying to determine whether they can set aside money to sue the county over some of the increased fees.

Mr. Hammond said that this year's tax deferential is as fair as it can be. He said the increases in water treatment and landfill fees are in line with increases facing county residents. And he said the county cut the bus money because the city didn't ask for it.

Mr. Hammond said he did not consider relations between the city and county strained.

"The county going to bat to keep the courthouse in downtown Annapolis speakers louder than these other things," he said.

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