2-cent property tax rate cut OK'd by council in 5-4 vote

Three aldermen push to reverse increase approved last year

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

The Annapolis city council voted to cut the property tax rate by 2 cents, a change implemented through a series of amendments that a bloc of three aldermen tacked on to Mayor Dean L. Johnson's $44 million spending proposal approved last night.

The action, trimming the tax rate to $1.68 per $100 of assessed value, reversed Johnson's 2-cent increase of last year.

Aldermen Sheila Tolliver, a Ward 2 Democrat, Louise Hammond, a Ward 1 Democrat, and Herbert H. McMillan, a Ward 5 Republican, introduced the amendments at the start of last night's meeting.

The three aldermen fought to cut the property tax by emphasizing that the city would be reaping substantially more returns this year anyway because property values had increased about 4 percent.

Tolliver also argued that in the last two years, the city brought in more revenue from income taxes than it had projected during the budget reports.

Last year, Tolliver said, Annapolis ended up with at least $400,000 more in income tax revenue than the city finance office had projected during budget discussions the previous year.

"We should not be building the city a savings account on the backs of the taxpayers," Tolliver said. "If there is enough money at the end of the day, we should give it back to the taxpayer."

Opposition to amendments

City Finance Office Director Kathleen Sulick and Ward 8 Democratic Alderman Ellen O. Moyer opposed the amendments, saying that it was better to be prudent in financial projections.

"I would rather be conservative than be standing up here explaining why we have a budget deficit at the end of the year," Sulick said.

The aldermen's amendments cut $16,000 allocated for funding for police services during First Night Annapolis, $82,500 Johnson wants for City Hall renovations and $5,000 to buy new chairs for the City Council chambers, among other things. They allocated more than $80,000 to resurfacing the running track at Weems Whelan field and gave more than $3,750 to the Police Department to start an underage drinking-prevention program.

Moyer also fought other aspects of the amendments, which included cutting $17,500 Johnson has proposed to allocate for building restrooms for the Barge House Museum in Eastport. She questioned why none of the amendment sponsors had asked her about cutting funding for an institution within her ward.

"It's the only one in the budget that addresses something specific to Eastport," Moyer said. "I did not have anyone ask me about its importance to the community."

Later, the council voted to keep Barge House funding in the budget by trimming $17,500 from the $100,000 the amendments' sponsors initially suggested be allocated for resurfacing the Weems Whelan track.

Moyer was less successful in fighting to keep in the budget Johnson's proposed $20,000 pay increase for the city administrator, who currently earns $74,000 as allowed by city code.

Johnson, who has gone without a full-time right-hand man since September, has been turned down by candidates because of a salary that, he said, they deemed too low.

In response, Tolliver noted a University of Maryland survey of city administrators and managers in Maryland, saying that Annapolis' salary for the position already was among the highest for cities of comparable size.

The council narrowly passed the three amendments by a vote of 5-4.

A matter of courtesy

After the voting, some aldermen criticized Tolliver, McMillan and Hammond for springing the amendments on their colleagues at last night's meeting. Moyer and Alderman Michael Fox said they should have been given adequate time to study the amendments as a matter of "courtesy."

"It seems to me that in the interest of open government," Moyer said, "that we ought to at least adhere to our rules of open government and good dialogue."

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