Mayor-to-be Adjusts Outlook

Aberdeen's Simmons says he won't rule out raising taxes to fund police pay increases

November 13, 2005|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Aberdeen's mayor-elect, S. Fred Simmons, said Friday that he is backing down from campaign claims that pay raises for police can be funded through budget cuts and said they instead might have to be made by raising taxes or cutting services.

Simmons said a cursory review of the city's finances suggests there is less fat in the budget than he suspected. While a tax increase isn't imminent, he said he would not rule it out and preferred to ask voters for their preference: tax increases or program, service and position cuts.

"We've balanced the budget on the backs of the people who are serving," Simmons said. "It seems to be that people want more services, but it's a matter of really simple economics: If they want the service, they've got to pay for it."

That finding was among several that Simmons has made as he prepares to be sworn in tomorrow night for his two-year term as mayor. He defeated incumbent Douglas S. Wilson in Tuesday's nonpartisan election.

The politically well-connected owner of an insurance business wants to quickly hire a full-time city manager and public works director and is looking to increase residents' participation in city politics. Well-versed in the implications of the military's base realignment, he has been examining how the city can maximize its benefits.

In the past few weeks, Simmons blasted Wilson and his administration for not looking hard enough for ways to increase police salaries.

"When it got to the point where they couldn't get creative enough to figure out where they were wasting their money, all they could think of was: tax increase for pay increase," Simmons told the Sun on Oct. 16.

Police, backed by Simmons, fought for binding arbitration, while consultants advised the city that such a move could boost the property tax by 2.5 cents to 3 cents. Members of the Fraternal Order of Police were incensed that the city used that justification on a flier sent out to residents just before the election, believing it was misleading.

"That's not fair, and I'm ashamed for you," Richard Denu, FOP vice president, scolded the mayor.

Simmons said Friday that he would look at several options, including increasing fees for developers and implementing a hotel tax.

"It's not as simple as saying, `Raise taxes,'" he said. "If the people want [better services], we could do it through a variety of ways. But I'm not going to rule anything out."

With the charter amendment for binding arbitration failing - perhaps largely, according to some voters, on the hope Simmons could negotiate better wages without a tax increase - all eyes are on the new mayor.

"I feel confident we will be able to have much better dealings with the new mayor and council," said FOP President Joseph K. Bray.

Residents can at least expect Simmons to shake up council meetings with increased openness and accountability. He was among a group of trustees that turned Harford Community College upside down after frustration with what he called "a lack of transparency," and he criticized Wilson for not accepting responsibility for a fine that cost the city $50,000 and accelerated a $200,000 study.

"I need to hit the ground running," he said. "Twenty-four months just isn't a lot of time to get things going."

Among the first items on his agenda is hiring a new city manager, which the city has been without since 18-year manager Peter Dacey was forced out in the spring. He has taken a job in the private sector and would not be among the candidates, though interim city manager Donald Brand is expected to be considered. Simmons has set a 60-day window.

On the council, the like-minded trio of Simmons, re-elected Councilman Ronald Kupferman and newcomer David Yensan is expected to represent a power shift from the triumvirate of Wilson, former council President Georgina "Gina" Bantum and Michael G. Hiob, which often voted as a bloc on controversial issues.

But while Wilson was defeated and Bantum received the fewest votes of any of the seven council candidates vying for the four open seats, Hiob not only was re-elected but received the most votes Tuesday. Ruth Elliott, a former mayor, also won a seat.

Hiob said this week that he does not believe potential differences with the new council will be an impediment.

"There might have been a different ideology, but all of us will work toward the best interests of Aberdeen," he said. "Every vote I've cast has been, in my opinion, what's best for Aberdeen at large, and I will continue to do that no matter who I work with."

To be effective, he will have to mend fences with Simmons, who interpreted Hiob's unwillingness to endorse a mayoral candidate as a snub and has refused to speak to Hiob for weeks.

While both said they have had a previously cordial relationship, Simmons, a Republican, and Hiob, a Democrat, have differed on the city's most controversial issues.

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

Aberdeen Results

MAYOR

S. Fred Simmons 1,092

Douglas S. Wilson 718

Myra A. Fender 292

Janice Grant 158

CITY COUNCIL

(top four win seats)

Michael G. Hiob 1,294

Ronald Kupferman 1,167

David A. Yensan 1,107

Ruth E. Elliott 1,091

Jerry K. Hansen 1,082

Bernard Dewitt 727

Georgina M. Bantum 664

CHARTER AMENDMENT

The measure would give Aberdeen police "the right to organize and bargain collectively through representation of their choosing," and require the city to "submit to binding arbitration any disputed issues not limited to wages and terms and conditions of employment arising out of the negotiations of a collective bargaining agreement which has not been successfully negotiated within 180 days after the adoption of this amendment."

Against the amendment 1,134

For the amendment 1,062

Bel Air Results

BOARD OF TOWN COMMISSIONERS

(top two win seats)

David E. Carey 457

Robert M. Preston 375

Stephen Cannon 316

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