Split council passes $81 million budget

June 11, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,Sun reporter

A divided Annapolis city council has passed an $81 million operating budget that keeps the tax rate flat, increases law enforcement spending and allows modest funding for nonprofits.

The budget, approved 5-4 Monday night, closely follows Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's fiscal plan. It raises the starting salary for a police officer to $43,000, sets aside $500,000 for security cameras in high-crime areas and creates an Office of Youth & Community Action. It goes into effect July 1.

Amendments, which will be paid for with a 0.45 percent across-the-board departmental cut, included $7,500 in community grants for the Kunta Kinte celebration and the Alex Haley memorial at City Dock, an additional $40,600 for cost-of-living adjustments for unrepresented sworn police officers, a reduction in funding for the downtown flower basket program from $30,000 to $10,000, and the elimination of a $410,595 public safety contingency fund, in an undetermined agreement that will allow city police officers to provide security to the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis.

"Annapolis is seeing a new life of crime, which is demanding new attention and increased funding," said Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle, chairwoman of the council's finance committee and a Ward 3 Democrat. "We heard loud and clear from our nonprofit organizations that the city cannot provide the degree of services that volunteers in nonprofits bring. So we provided seed money for most and matching funding for many in order to keep these services."

Moyer cut all funding for nonprofits when she proposed the budget in March. The budget passed with nearly half a million dollars of funding.

Highlighting the split on the council, Alderman Frederick M. Paone, a Ward 2 Republican, called the city's magazine a "puff piece" and proposed getting rid of the $85,000 for its publication three times yearly. Alderman Richard E. Israel, a Ward 1 Democrat, called for restoring about half of the $68,000 in funding to the nonprofit Art in Public Places, which was slashed. Paone's measure failed; Israel's passed.

The four dissenting aldermen - Paone, David H. Cordle Sr., a Ward 6 Republican, Julie N. Stankivic, who is unaffiliated and represents Ward 6, and Ross H. Arnett III, a Ward 8 Democrat - all pronounced the budget bloated.

"What we have failed to do this year is go back to the funding and look at what we absolutely need to run this city," Paone said. "We have to go back to the beginning and justify ever nickel that was spent, and my fear is we haven't done that this year. The city budget is fundamentally wrong. There are some people on this council that if the mayor said, 'Let's all take a swim off the Capital,' then they'll all say, 'OK, let's take notes.'"

Tensions over the twice-delayed budget vote might have been fueled by the lack of air conditioning inside the council chambers, where the temperature was reported to be 94. (Several high-powered fans brought in were ordered shut off when it became clear that neither the public nor the council members could hear the proceedings over the roar.)

Moyer, calling the city's budget process "the most open and participatory" in the state and dismissing criticism as "a little bit of partisan stuff," said of the close vote to pass the budget, "The vote is basically making a statement for next year as everyone lines up to run for mayor. I don't know what to make of it."

The property tax rate, which fell 3 cents in 2006 to 53 cents per $100 of assessed value, remains unchanged.

The council also passed a $37.4 million capital improvement budget, along with higher fees for its water, sewer and storm water utility fund and harbor master fees.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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