State to pay city more

Increase to cover larger share of state's police, fire service

`A good host partner'

Officials sought greater compensation for many years

November 05, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening announced yesterday the state's approval of an increase of $50,000 for each of the next three years in its annual payment to Annapolis for police and fire services -- a boost that city officials have lobbied for since the late 1980s.

The state's compensation -- now called a "Capital City Grant" instead of payment in lieu of taxes -- will rise to $317,000 next year, $367,000 the year after, and $417,000 in 2002.

Annapolis officials and state delegates who represent the city have long pressed for full compensation for services provided to state agencies, whose land in the city is tax-exempt. For each of the past eight years, the state has given the city $267,000 annually, even though the Annapolis services have cost much more -- $647,000 last year and $599,000 in 1997.

"We have been working on this issue for a while," Glendening said. "I appreciate the fact that Annapolis has been a good host city, a good partner. Here's an opportunity to make some increases. We do this to help."

Since 1942, the state has given Annapolis a payment in lieu of taxes to cover fire, police and other services the city provides. The amount given to the city is not fixed or formalized.

Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson noted yesterday that the last change in payment was a $73,000 decrease made about eight years ago when the city stopped providing trash removal to state agencies. If the state paid property taxes on the land it occupies, Johnson has said, Annapolis would receive $1.1 million annually.

"The state's grant is going to end up being a 56 percent increase," said Johnson. "Every year, this has been discussed. Finally, it's happening."

The issue of seeking full compensation resurfaced in January, when state legislators who represent Annapolis became concerned at the more than $350,000 shortfall the city suffered last year providing services to the state.

"We've tried in the past to put bills in to formalize it, and they never went anywhere," said Sen. John C. Astle, a Democrat who represents Annapolis. "Other Maryland municipalities would jump on us and say, `Hey, how about us? We also host some state buildings.' "

Astle said the delegates also talked to previous governors, but the governors didn't want to be locked into any sum. Glendening "is the first one that's been sensitive to our needs."

While state legislators began quietly lobbying Glendening to increase payments, Annapolis Alderman Herbert H. McMillan tried another route and introduced a resolution in March to call on the General Assembly to compensate the city fully for "costs solely attributable to the state government's presence in Annapolis." The city council eventually voted down the resolution.

McMillan said he was pleased with Glendening's promised increase.

"I'm encouraged because it's a step in the right direction," said McMillan, a Republican who represents Ward 5. "But I will not be fully satisfied until the state recognizes its obligation to Annapolis. I don't think it's appropriate to require residents to fund the state's police and fire services when they already pay state taxes. It's an inequitable mandate."

Mike Morrill, Glendening's spokesman, pointed out that Annapolis' status as state capital draws tourism -- and spending money -- to the city.

"Many cities would pay the state to bring this amount of tourists to their area," Morrill said.

He added that Annapolis delegates have worked hard to increase the city's payment while avoiding the dispute over how much the services cost. "Every time that approach has been tried, it has actually caused damage to chances of getting funding," he said.

Johnson and Astle pointed out that they are brokering deals for the state to fund projects, including renovations to West Street and Rowe Boulevard.

As for increases in the Capital City Grant beyond the three years mentioned, Glendening said that would be up to the next governor.

Then he paused and added with a smile, "Whatever she decides at that time to be appropriate."

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