With layoff notices about to be sent to more than 500 municipal workers, City Council members looked yesterday for ways to avoid cutting city jobs and services without adopting Mayor Martin O'Malley's tax plan.
At a 90-minute work session attended by business and nonprofit groups opposed to the mayor's tax plan, two council committees offered a variety of alternatives but did not agree on a plan of their own.
Members of the Taxation Committee and the Budget and Appropriations Committee will meet again at 2 p.m. Monday, when they hope to agree on plans that can be presented to the full council for a vote at 5 p.m. that day.
"We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of issues are out there," said Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., chairman of the Taxation Committee.
O'Malley has proposed doubling taxes on real estate sales, imposing a $3.50-a-month fee on cell phones and land lines, and levying a 4 percent energy tax on residents, manufacturers, state and federal offices, nonprofit groups, churches and hospitals.
Without the new taxes, O'Malley's proposed $2.1 billion budget would reduce fire protection and trash collection, eliminate recycling, shrink library hours and cut more than 500 municipal jobs, including 186 police officers.
The city was preparing yesterday to send layoff notices to employees. At least some city agencies were expected to mail the notices Monday, with the layoffs taking effect June 29.
In addition to new taxes, the two committees will look for ways to trim O'Malley's proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, said Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake, chairwoman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee. She was confident that the council would come up with a combination of cuts and new taxes to balance the budget.
"The council has really stepped up to the challenge of dealing with a tough budget," she said.
At yesterday's work session, Councilman Robert W. Curran proposed exempting manufacturers from the energy tax. Council President Sheila Dixon suggested charging a lower tax on the individual lines that are part of large phone systems common to corporations and hospitals. Mitchell proposed a $1.50 monthly fee on wireless and land lines, with an additional 8 percent tax on land lines. O'Malley's plan would eliminate the current 12 percent tax on land lines.
Denise Matricciani, vice president of government relations for the Maryland Hospital Association, was pleased to hear the council discussing a time and dollar limit on the energy tax. She said her organization would find the tax on cell phones acceptable if land lines were exempt.
"If a tax is going to pass, we prefer it be lower than higher," said Henry Bogdan, public policy director of Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations.