Mayor to recommend spending cuts in budget

Recent initiatives aim to `do more with less'


April 13, 2003|By Amanda J. Crawford | Amanda J. Crawford,SUN STAFF

In her proposed budget for fiscal year 2004 - to be released tomorrow night - Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer is aiming to improve the efficiency of city services without increasing staff or spending.

"We've reduced costs and the budget is smaller - we're trying to do more with less," Moyer said last week, after hours of budget meetings with staff. "We've rearranged dollars, rearranged things, rearranged people department-to-department, but there are no enhancements."

Moyer said she will propose that general fund expenditures - the bulk of the city's operating budget that includes departmental spending - be reduced by about 5.4 percent for fiscal year 2004 to $37.34 million from $39.51 million for fiscal year 2003.

While Moyer would not give other details before submitting the 2004 budget to the city council, she said her priorities remained the same as last year, when she crafted her first budget as mayor, with a strong focus on public safety, economic vitality, community outreach and the environment.

Among the initiatives is the creation of a new city department to absorb some functions from both the public works and planning and zoning departments.

Last month, Moyer introduced a charter amendment to create the Department of Neighborhood and Environmental Programs, which would include the inspections and permits staff, zoning enforcement officers and environmental employees.

Michael D. Mallinoff, acting chief of the Bureau of Inspections and Permits who was asked to study ways to streamline and reorganize the public works division when hired last year, said the new department will not entail any increase in staffing since the employees already exist in other departments.

He said the functions of those employees are "symbiotic," pointing out that storm water management and tree retention, among other issues, have both regulatory and environmental implications. He also said the budget will fund new technology, such as hand-held computer organizers for field inspectors, intended to make the department more efficient.

Among other initiatives is the $8.5 million renovation of police headquarters on Taylor Avenue that has been funded in the city's capital budget. That project was bolstered by $2 million in capital funds awarded by the state this year despite budget woes. Construction could begin by next winter, Moyer said.

"I think the governor and the legislature appreciated the first-response role of the city police if there is an emergency" in the state capital, Moyer said.

Moyer would not say whether residents will see a change in the city property tax rate, now at 62.4 cents per $100 of assessed value. But she added that she expects to see about $800,000 less from the state in operating funds next year.

Because of this, some council members, who have not yet seen the budget, said they are eager to see what the mayor does with the tax rate.

"I would like to see a reduction if we can make it work without jeopardizing services," said Alderman Michael W. Fox, a Moyer ally who leads the council's finance committee.

When the mayor and other council members rejected a plan in November that would have limited the amount of additional taxes paid by residents due to increased assessments, there was speculation that the mayor would offer some tax rate decrease in order to offset the action politically.

But Alderwoman Louise Hammond, who co-sponsored the homestead tax credit measure, said even a tax cut does not mean much if more money is taken in than the year before. Hammond said the city should adjust the tax rate to make it a constant yield rate - a rate that would keep the amount of taxes collected by the government unchanged.

"I think that is something we should try to do every budget season, and to try to do even better than that," she said.

Moyer said that changes also were made in the process for giving out grants to nonprofit groups this year. The changes were based on requests by the finance committee and council members during the last budget process.

In addition to some individual grants, the mayor said, money allotted for drug treatment and after-school programs will be awarded to groups as contracts for the community services. That way the city can better track the outcome of the programs and avoid funding overlapping initiatives, she said.

The mayor will deliver her State of the City address and introduce her budget proposal at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow in the Council Chambers at City Hall on Duke of Gloucester Street.

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