Budget bliss

April 15, 2005

AT THIS TIME last year, Baltimore's fiscal picture looked bleak, bleak, bleak. There was talk of slashing scores of city jobs, reducing fire service and bringing back the dreaded once-a-week trash pickup. Out came the mayor with plans to raise fees and taxes. And up they went.

What a difference a year makes!

Today, a better-than-expected revenue picture is going to mean a 2-cent reduction in the city tax rate. And now Mayor Martin O'Malley says the city is going to end the budget year with a surplus - a big one. City Hall attributes the bulk of the $37.5 million surplus to an increase in transfer and recordation taxes. City officials caution that the surplus is a one-time boon attributed to a thriving housing market. But predictions are that city home sales will continue to be robust.

The mayor has decided to spend a chunk of the money on a precious resource - the city's children and at-risk youths. The surplus will also pay for much-needed repairs at recreation centers and replace aging police cars and other equipment. It's been seven years since the city's surplus approached this one, and then it totaled $25 million.

Call it the luck of the Irish - or an Irishman with sights on the State House.

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