Mayor's budget proposal calls for lower property tax rate

$57.5 million plan also includes funds for hiring police workers


April 07, 2004|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Annapolis would hire more police employees, provide raises to city employees and lower the property tax rate under a spending plan released yesterday by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer.

The mayor proposed a $57.5 million budget that would reduce the property tax rate by 2 cents, to 58 cents per $100 of assessed value.

But many homeowners can expect to pay more in property taxes this year because of rising real estate assessments. The state reported last year that tax assessments in the city had risen an average of about 40 percent over three years; those new assessments are being phased in.

The state limits assessment increases to 10 percent a year.

This means that the owner of a $200,000 home who saw his taxable assessment increase 10 percent would pay $1,320 in city taxes under the current tax rate -- up from $1,200 last year. If Moyer's proposal is adopted, that homeowner would pay $1,276 in city taxes this year. City residents also pay state and county property taxes.

"If you're paying city, state and county taxes, it's hard to see savings," Moyer said in a phone interview. She was out of town as staffers released her budget proposal.

The council lowered the tax rate by 2.4 cents last year.

Even if the city cuts the tax rate, it expects to collect $1.2 million in additional property taxes next fiscal year, according to Tim Elliott, the city's finance director. He attributed most of the increase to new growth in the city from commercial redevelopment and annexations.

The budget was distributed to City Council members late Monday and several said they had not studied it closely.

But Alderman David H. Cordle said he was pleased with proposed additions to the Police Department. The budget includes nearly $117,000 to hire four employees for the police force. The employees would do paperwork and desk jobs, freeing up officers for patrol or investigations.

"It will serve the interest of the city to have the officers on the street," he said.

Police Chief Joseph S. Johnson agreed. "It will make a huge difference. In a small department, adding [officers] is a big deal," he said.

But Cordle said that he would go over the budget more carefully this week, looking for ways to trim spending. "In the past, there's been too much leeway in the budget," he said.

But other than providing for more police employees, the budget is conservative, city officials said. The proposed budget is nearly $2.5 million more than this year's, but much of the increase can be attributed to cost-of-living increases for employees -- 3 percent -- and health care costs, Elliott said.

And while city officials said they were happy with the city's economic outlook, they warned that tough times could be on the horizon depending on what happens in the state legislature, where lawmakers are grappling with a tight budget.

If the state budget impasse is not resolved, city officials fear small municipalities such as Annapolis could suffer. This year, the city lost nearly $500,000 in highway user fees it was expecting.

"There will be an impact on local governments" if the state cannot resolve its budget, said Bob Agee, the city administrator.

City officials will hold a series of public meetings on the budget beginning April 15. The budget takes effect July 1.

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