Annapolis residents voice concern about budget plan

62.5% increase in water, sewer rates opposed

May 03, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Annapolitans seem most anxious over their mayor's push for an increase in water and sewer rates, say city aldermen who have been immersed in study and discussion of a proposed $44.1 million city budget.

Mayor Dean L. Johnson released his budget proposal two weeks ago, stressing the need for improvements to the city's aging infrastructure and saying a gradual 62.5 percent increase in water and sewer rates is needed to fund public works renovations. Several city aldermen said residents have told them they are concerned about such increases -- a sentiment that might be expressed during tonight's public hearing on the budget at City Hall.

"Most of the people I've heard from are people who've lived in Annapolis a long time and are on fixed incomes or retirement incomes and are concerned about their ability to absorb costs of that magnitude," said Sheila M. Tolliver, a Ward 2 Democrat.

With his budget proposal, Johnson introduced a resolution to increase both rates by 21.7 percent the first year, 26.4 percent the next, followed by a 4.1 percent raise and an 8.6 percent boost.

"I understand we haven't had an increase in 10 years," said Alderman Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat. "Nevertheless, I'd like to look to see if there are some possibilities here for some other relief."

Alderman Herb McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican, said he has studied the proposal and identified where cuts can be made -- in grants. McMillan pointed to funding for the arts that Johnson has proposed, including $40,000 for the Cultural Arts Foundation.

"I think we have too many grants," McMillan said. "For almost a decade, [the Kunta Kinte Festival] has been receiving $10,000 a year. They should be self-supporting by now. Philosophically, I don't think it's our job to provide entertainment and cultural arts. I don't think a lot of these things are a function of government. Our job is to take care of roads, to provide for public safety, police and fire, water and sewer and that should be our sole focus."

McMillan also questioned the need for $10,000 to purchase stackable chairs for the Council Chamber and $105,000 for City Hall renovations.

"I just don't buy into the whole need for renovation of City Hall," McMillan said. "Maybe it's because I was in the Navy for so long but everything about City Hall, by the standards I've been in contact with, are more than adequate. We're getting a lot more money because property values increased this year and we should definitely be looking for ways to return the increase to the taxpayer."

Joseph Sachs, a Ward 4 Republican and chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, said Friday that his group continues to discuss the budget and suggest revisions. He said the committee is "pretty much comfortable" with Johnson's capital improvement plan. It supports a $750,000 allocation to replace aging city-owned vehicles, and proposed sewer and water system renovations.

"It is long overdue to get started with a reasonable plan," Sachs said. "We have not finished doing an analysis of the water and sewer rates, but I'm very happy to see that there is a plan in there to deal with an ongoing problem that we need to stop pushing off."

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