It seems as if there would be no question that the U.S. Naval Academy, located in the heart of historic Annapolis and one of its oldest institutions, is part of the city.
But legally, the 388-acre academy exists as a separate property outside city boundaries; the federal government owns and administers it. That would change, however, under a bill introduced by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer at a city council meeting Monday night that would make all federal property within the existing city limits a part of Annapolis.
"It's intended to bring some clarity to the boundary issue," said City Administrator Bob Agee. "Go down the street and ask somebody if they think the academy is in the city - you probably won't find anyone that doesn't."
Despite the intentions of city government, confusion abounds as to how the bill would affect Annapolitans and midshipmen.
"This caught me by surprise," said Alderman George O. Kelley Sr. "We have no real idea what this means for the city."
At Monday night's council meeting, Alderwoman Louise Hammond suggested that a work session be scheduled to study what effect the proposed legislation would have on the city.
"I think there are a lot of legal questions," she said. "I want somebody with financial expertise who is not beholden to the administration to tell us what this is going to cost us."
The new legislation comes as a private company, Lincoln Property Co., prepares to take over management of the academy's military housing next month. Lincoln officials could not be reached for comment.
No state or local government can tax housing on a military installation, but Lincoln's looming takeover has muddied the waters, necessitating a scramble by state lawyers to determine whether Lincoln can be taxed.
According to Agee, Lincoln has offered to pay an annual fee equivalent to a property tax once it completes the privatization process, regardless of what the state's lawyers conclude. However, the city is not permitted to accept such payments unless the bill is adopted.
A staff paper prepared for the city council stated that the bill's benefits for Annapolis would be twofold. First, the city could collect the payments offered by Lincoln. Second, the Naval Academy's official population of 4,264 would be added to the city's population (35,838 as of the 2000 census), an increase of nearly 12 percent.
That increase would help the city gain revenue from state and federal sources, said Agee.
"It would help with population-based aid formulas," he said.
But Agee said he didn't know how much money the city would realize if the legislation were adopted.
He said that Annapolis is dotted with "bits and pieces of federal property" that would also be affected by the proposed legislation, though the city has always provided services to them as if they were part of the city.
Agee said the Navy's control over the academy would be unchanged, noting that its fire and police forces would continue to service the areas within its gates.
For their part, however, Navy officials would say little.
"As the legislation is still pending, we have not formed an official position at this time," said Lt. Cmdr. Bill Anderson, a spokesman with the Naval District of Washington Public Affairs Office.
Moyer insisted that it would entail no drastic changes.
"It's a boundary issue," she said. "This is not about some land grab."
With the first reading complete, the bill awaits a second reading and public hearing in a few months.