City Council, mayor reach budget deal Compromise results in $2.2 billion spending package

7-week struggle ends

Recreation and parks cut trimmed

2 tax increases included

June 11, 1996|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

After reaching a compromise with Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, the Baltimore City Council last night gave final approval to a $2.2 billion budget for the next fiscal year that includes two tax increases and less severe cuts to recreational, cultural and scholarship programs.

Last night's action puts to an end a seven-week battle between the mayor and the council over balancing the budget.

Under last night's compromise, the Department of Recreation and Parks will shoulder a $1 million cut to its budget, instead of the $3 million proposed by the mayor. Council scholarships and grants to artistic and cultural groups will be cut $150,000 each. As a result, those programs will be funded at half of last year's level.

The council used those programs as bargaining chips in budget negotiations with the mayor, who was pushing the legislative panel to balance the budget with tax increases.

The council did approve two new tax increases: An 8 percent parking garage tax and a 10 percent amusement tax on pinball and video game operations. Both levies are expected to net the city about $2.8 million in revenue in the next fiscal year.

The parking tax would rise from $12 to $13 for monthly parkers, and fees for daily parking would rise from 45 cents to 60 cents.

The amusement tax would add a 10 percent levy on gross receipts for arcade-type machines in addition to the $450 license fee.

Neither Schmoke nor council members got all they wanted in the budget.

The mayor wanted a tax increase that would generate about $4.9 million a year. He said that if he didn't get it, he would cut deeply into programs favored by the council. The council wanted to balance the city budget solely through cuts and threatened to cut the mayor's preferred programs.

"When you have a compromise, no one is happy, but everybody is going to live," said Vera P. Hall, the mayor's liaison to the council.

"As a compromise, I guess we are heading toward taking a more realistic look at what the city needs," said 4th District Councilwoman Sheila Dixon.

In recent weeks, there has been much fretting about city recreation centers and whether they would be closed just at the beginning of summer when residents use them most. Expecting to lose $3 million, the department drew up layoff notices and compiled a list of centers to be closed.

But what the extra $1 million to recreation and the $1 million to parks will mean is still not clear. Recreation and Parks Director Marlyn J. Perritt is to submit by the end of the week a plan on how she will spend the money.

The mayor and Council President Lawrence A. Bell III spent most of yesterday in budget negotiations. At one point, said mayoral aides, Schmoke was ready to veto the council's budget plan.

Last Thursday, the council voted to cut about $7.4 million from the mayor's spending plan. Last night, the council restored about $3 million of that money. In return, the council got about $2.8 million for its preferred programs, including $400,000 for a dental clinic program.

Under the City Charter, the council can cut the mayor's budget proposal but not add to it. Only the mayor can restore funds.

The mayor wanted a 10 percent increase in the personal income tax to cover an expected $4.6 million budgetary shortfall. But he was rebuffed by the council majority which wanted no new taxes. Instead Schmoke and Bell agreed to take $3.2 million that the mayor's preliminary budget allocated to the city's rainy-day fund and use it to cover most of the expected shortfall.

Yesterday, the two men said that the council and the mayor have never before worked so closely to balance the city's budget.

The budget takes effect July 1.

Also last night, the Board of Estimates kept the city's property tax rate for fiscal 1997 at $5.85 per $100 of assessed valuation and the council approved it.

Pub Date: 6/11/96

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