Expressing surprise and outrage over John G. Gary's plan to raise the city's property tax rate, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins voted earlier this week to sue Anne Arundel County while helping to persuade his council colleagues to join him.
But the mayor did not tell Annapolis aldermen, who met privately Monday night, that he had known since March that the county executive would propose a tax increase for city residents as part of next year's budget. Now, council members say the mayor misled them, while pushing the city into a potential legal battle they question whether it can win.
Weeks before County Executive Gary unveiled his budget May 1, he and Hopkins met in Gary's office suite and discussed not only the impending tax increase but also how much it likely would be, according to a memo summarizing their March meeting.
The memo, dated March 13, contradicts recent statements by members of the Annapolis city council that the tax proposal surprised top city officials. It also could undermine their emerging legal claim that Anne Arundel officials failed to negotiate the tax increase before it was disclosed.
"The letter shows beyond a shadow of a doubt that there were discussions surrounding the issue," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, a Ward 5 Democrat and chairman of the city finance committee. "I think it was a big mistake on [Hopkins'] part not to have shared it with the finance committee or the council."
In a closed session Monday, five aldermen and the mayor -- voted to sue the county to block the proposed 8-cent rate increase.
City aldermen said yesterday that the mayor did not disclose his meeting with Gary, and that the memo could influence their strategy. "I am one who supports some kind of negotiated agreement," said Alderman Shepard Tullier, a Ward 4 Democrat. "It was really a shock that this kind of communication was going and we were out of the loop." Hopkins did not return phone calls yesterday.
The memo was written by Gary's chief of staff, Sam Minnitte, to City Administrator John Prehn. In two pages, it summarizes a discussion between Gary and Hopkins in which the county executive told the mayor that he was planning to raise city property taxes by as much as 9 cents per $100 in assessed value.
Minnitte concluded his letter: "If you have any concerns or questions please give me a call." No city officials contacted him, according to county officials.
If approved, the increase would add $61 to the annual property tax bill of the average Annapolis homeowner.
Prehn confirmed yesterday that the discussion took place. "I think the descriptive term they used was that taxes 'might be' raised," Prehn said. "I don't think it was 'will be.' "
He said the mayor left the meeting believing that more negotiations would be scheduled while Gary and his aides drafted the budget for the coming fiscal year.
Pub Date: 5/09/96