Legislators request increase in state fee for city services

Annapolis spends more protecting state agencies than Maryland has paid

January 21, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

State legislators are lobbying Gov. Parris E. Glendening to help cover the $300,000-plus annual shortfall the city of Annapolis suffers providing state agencies with police, fire and public works services.

For each of the past eight years, the state has given the city $267,000 as payment in lieu of taxes for services. But Mayor Dean L. Johnson said the city shelled out much more: $647,000 last year and $599,000 in 1997.

If the state paid property taxes on the city land it occupies, Johnson noted, Annapolis would receive $1.1 million annually.

No increase in years

The state's payment "hasn't been increased in 20 years," said Del. Michael E. Busch, a Democrat who represents Annapolis. "We want to do right by our city."

Busch said he and two other Democratic Annapolis lawmakers -- Del. Virginia P. Clagett and Sen. John C. Astle -- informally asked Glendening last week to increase the state's payment in lieu of taxes to the city.

"He agreed that they would make some incremental increases," Busch said. "It wouldn't take place this year because his operating budget was in effect, but he said that in each of the next three years, they would make an increase in payment."

Glendening, involved in inauguration ceremonies, could not be reached for comment.

"We appreciate the opportunity to serve as host for the state government," the mayor said. "We have for more than 300 years. But we would like additional financial assistance in providing the resources the state deserves. In the long run, we're going to have to see some adjustments there."

City law pushes issue

Clagett said delegates have been concerned for some time about the state's inadequate reimbursements to Annapolis, but the issue became more pressing recently when city officials began considering a controversial bill to charge event organizers for police and other services provided during marches and parades.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Center for Law and Justice criticized the proposal and warned city officials against trampling on the First Amendment right of citizens to march and demonstrate without restraints. The debate brought to the delegates' attention just how much the city must pay police and trash haulers when activists visit the state capital to demonstrate.

"When we read about it, it registered that this is something we can maybe address a little differently and more fairly," Clagett said. "Since the state's in pretty good shape, we can afford to do a little bit more for the city."

Clagett said the lawmakers are meeting Johnson tomorrow to discuss the issue and will then go to Glendening with more information.

Other delegates have offered assistance too. District 31 Del. John Leopold, chairman of the subcommittee overseeing state and county relations, said his group plans to meet Johnson, city aldermen and the Annapolis delegates Feb. 1 to discuss how the state can help.

Events bill will change

The bill that caught the state lawmakers' attention is being amended even before these meetings. Alderman Herb McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican, will announce an amendment to his events bill this afternoon that will unequivocally protect free speech.

He said the amendment specifies that charges for city services "do not apply to rallies, parades or gatherings held for the purpose of exercising constitutionally protected rights of speech, religion or assembly in parks or sidewalks."

McMillan added: "In practical terms, what this means is, if you can't do the march on the sidewalk because the group's too big and the street has to be closed, there's no charge for the event. But if a group wants to have a march and they're not a big group and can be easily accommodated on the sidewalk but they insist they want to close a street so they can draw more attention to their cause, at that point they have to pay for closure of the street."

Activist agrees to new bill

Patricia Lyman, staff counsel for the Virginia Beach-based ACLJ, said she was pleased with the amendment she helped draft with McMillan, city attorney Paul G. Goetzke and ACLU staff counsel Dwight Sullivan.

"I fully believe that the intent of this ordinance has always been to be in full compliance with the Constitution," Lyman said. "Any initial First Amendment problems were a totally unintended consequence. I feel confident that a very sound ordinance will result from this."

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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