Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer unveiled last night a proposed $54.9 million spending plan for the next fiscal year that would reduce the city property tax rate by 2.4 cents, though many homeowners will still see higher taxes due to assessment jumps.
Under Moyer's proposal, the operating budget would fall from $55.6 million in the current fiscal year. This was achieved mainly by cutting general fund spending - the bulk of the budget - by 5.4 percent, and by slashing the amount to be transferred to the capital projects budget by more than 80 percent. The city will issue bonds and tap unspent funds to pay for major projects, and defer some small projects to future years.
In her State of the City address last night, Moyer declared her proposal a "bare bones budget."
Still, she found room for several new initiatives, including the hiring of two paramedics to staff a new substation on the Annapolis Neck peninsula. Her budget also calls for a new fee for city water users that would pay to improve the city's storm water management system.
Moyer has recommended reducing the property tax rate from 62.4 cents to 60 cents per $100 of assessed value. This means that the owner of a $250,000 home in Annapolis would pay $1,500 in city property taxes next year, or about $60 less than currently.
However, many property owners would still see their property tax bills rise because of the recent state assessments. Tax assessments in the city went up an average of about 40 percent last year. Those increases are being phased in over the next three years.
For the city to collect the same amount of property tax revenue overall as this fiscal year - a constant yield tax rate - the rate would have to be set at 57.1 cents per $100 of assessed value. But Tim Elliott, the city's finance director, said that the extra pennies are needed to cover inflation and increased costs of services.
The mayor's budget includes a program that would allow residents age 65 and older to defer tax increases, as well as tax credit programs for needy residents. The city expects those programs to reduce estimated revenue by about $350,000 to $400,000 in fiscal year 2004.
Moyer said her priorities - public safety, economic vitality and community service - remained the same as last year. But faced with about $800,000 less in state funding and with increased costs, she said she focused on ways to streamline government processes and improve efficiency.
The city will "learn to do more with less," she said, "improving our management system and service delivery through tracking resources and monitoring results, increased collaboration, partnership, innovation and citizen participation."
Among the new initiatives in the mayor's budget:
A paramedics substation would be opened on Forest Drive between Edgewood Road and Tyler Avenue to provide improved service to city and county residents on the Annapolis Neck peninsula in anticipation of a future county-built fire station in the area. Two paramedics would be hired. The total cost would be between $250,000 and $300,000.
Homeowners and businesses would be charged "a nickel a day for the Bay" on city water bills under a proposal that must be approved separately by the city council. The fee - about $10 to $15 per year per household - would be used to establish a "Clean Waters Fund." It would pay for improvements in the city's storm water management facilities and to maintain and improve the quality of the city's waterways.
Faced with an estimated 19 percent increase in health care costs, the city would take over the administration of its health insurance program from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, for an initial savings of $250,000 a year. Employees would see no change in doctors or services.
The city would contract to provide trash collection services to downtown businesses, which now contract with private firms. If businesses choose that option, the administration hopes it will make downtown cleaner.
The city would partner with the Naval Academy Athletic Association and receive $1 per car for every vehicle parked on weekdays at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. On weekends, the city would staff the lot and collect the full amount, except during football games. This would generate about $100,000 a year in revenue to be used to enhance the city's shuttle service.
The city would contribute, along with the county, to a learning program for needy 4-year-olds, and to a skills-building program at the community college for at-risk young adults to learn construction trades. It would also establish a community college scholarship program for subsidized housing residents.