No Annapolis tax cut

Mayor's budget holds line on property taxes after 3-cent cut last year

March 14, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Annapolitans hoping for a rerun of last year's cut in the property tax rate should promptly tuck those hopes away.

Even as she holds the line on taxes, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's operating and capital budgets call for spending more to preserve historic properties, expand bus services and crime prevention and cover increased benefits to employees.

The $74.3 million operating budget for fiscal 2008 -- a $5 million increase over the current year -- maintains the property tax rate of 53 cents per $100 of assessed value. It fell 3 cents last year.

Moyer, who unveiled her spending plan at Monday night's City Council meeting, stressed in her sixth State of the City address the challenges of the city of 36,000 people and the need for further collaboration -- her mantra.

"It's a budget that is asking for partnerships from the state and federal government for public work projects and to continue to make sure we have quality workers," said spokesman Ray Weaver. "We've got to continue to be involved in preventing crime and making sure the funds are there and that we are able to be an effective partner."

In the next weeks, the city will schedule hearings with each of the department heads and the three-member finance committee will review the budget, which will also include determining which nonprofits will get a share of the $400,000 allocated in the mayor's budget. A public hearing is set for April 23. The budget goes into effect for the coming fiscal year, beginning July 1.

Alderman Samuel E. Shropshire predicted that it would remain mainly intact.

"Our infrastructure is decaying, and I can't see a budget decrease when we have so much infrastructure need," said Shropshire, a Ward 7 Democrat. "We'll look for areas to cut, but an overall tax decrease is out of the question."

Rising assessments -- up an average 27 percent in 2005 in the city -- will mean that homeowners can expect to see higher tax bills.

The city caps assessment increases for tax purposes at 10 percent a year, the state maximum, so the owner of a home previously valued at $300,000 will pay taxes on a newly assessed value of $330,000. That translates to a property tax bill $1,680 this year. That amount does not include county and state property taxes.

Tim Elliott, the city's finance director, said $4.5 million of the budget increase over last year is due to salary increases for city workers and benefits for retirees. The city pays 80 percent of health care benefits for retirees, which will amount to at least $1.2 million each year, unless the city decides to reduce its contribution.

"Everyone from the state on down is facing a huge amount of money to pay in health benefits," Elliott said. "We wanted to give generous health benefits because that's why people weren't retiring, because they couldn't afford the benefits. But there might be some rethinking,"

The mayor's budget also includes $120,000 for partnerships in crime reduction.

A $1.7 million estimated increase in fuel, electricity operational and contractual services would be largely offset by an increase in liquor license fees and ambulance service charges under the mayor's plan.

The $38.6 million capital budget includes funding for police department renovations, improvements to Back Creek and Truxtun parks and bulkhead replacements for City Dock. It also sets aside $300,000 for renovations to the Maynard-Burgess House, $1.2 million for City Hall restorations and additional funds for work at the Stanton Center and public works buildings.

budget highlights

Highlights of Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's $74.3 million operating and $38.6 million capital budgets:

High-frequency West Street shuttle system linking downtown and to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium -- $190,000

Crime prevention programs targetting at-risk youth -- $120,000

Repairs to the council chambers in the circa 1767 City Hall -- $1.2 million

Continued renovations to the historic Maynard-Burgess House, including landscaping -- $300,000

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