Board OKs waiver of fees

Annapolis council approves savings for homeless center

March 01, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

The Annapolis city council passed a bill waiving more than $120,000 in city fees for a homeless-prevention center, despite opposition from some council members who said the current budget won't allow such a hefty waiver.

Although supporters of the Light House Homeless Prevention Support Center, scheduled to begin construction in July, asked that about $210,000 be waived, Ward 1 Alderman Richard Israel proposed an amendment at Monday's council meeting that deducted the capital facility assessment fees, which are paid over a 30-year period.

The $123,550 that was waived was for building and grading permits, water and sewer connections and capital finance charges.

"We cannot enter into this huge dream without your continued support," Elizabeth Kinney said at a public hearing held this month. She has campaigned for private funds for the center, at a public hearing held earlier this month.

"We are struggling to save every dollar. ... We are grateful, and we know you are not obligated to support us," she told the council at that hearing.

Two aldermen voted against the bill - Julie Stankivic of Ward 6 and David Cordle of Ward 5. Stankivic unsuccessfully proposed an amendment to deduct about $70,000 more from the waiver.

Light House, on West Street, is the only 24-hour homeless shelter in the city. The new facility, to be built on Hudson Street near Parole, is expected to cost almost $4 million to construct and would be a full-service support center for Annapolis' homeless population.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Classie Gillis Hoyle, the bill's sponsor, called the $123,000 a "good compromise for the city and the Light House."

"I sponsored [the bill] because to me, we have to support those who are less fortunate," Hoyle said. "The homeless are the poorest of the poor, and that's what I have been taught - that you support those who need your services."

At Monday's meeting, the council also heard public testimony on the hotly debated issue of mayoral and aldermanic salaries.

Earlier this year, a commission charged with recommending salaries for the next round of city council members issued a report suggesting that the next mayor earn $120,000 a year, which is $50,000 more than the current salary, and that aldermen earn $18,500 a year, plus $1,000 for expenses. Aldermen currently make $12,600 a year.

Many Annapolis residents have spoken against the raises, saying that such a drastic increase is fiscally irresponsible in such a bad economy.

"While many Annapolitans are being laid off or forced to take furloughs, wondering how they are going to pay their bills, put gas in their cars and food on their families' tables, this ordinance proposes the largest increase in compensation and benefits for the mayor and council over the past decade, if not in the history, of our city," said Scott Bowling, who fielded several questions from the council after his testimony.

Carroll Hynson Jr., 72, testified that despite arguments that the proposed mayoral raise is inappropriate in such a bad economy, "Our future is now."

"This city has changed significantly," he said. "Our city's cost of living has drastically increased. ... These salaries should be raised to make the job a viable financial option."

J. Elizabeth Garraway, who chaired the compensation commission, said the commission stands behind its recommendations, which were based on cost-of-living expectations for the next four years, salaries for those in similar positions in other cities and the private sector, and the responsibilities of the mayor.

"We did our dead-level best to look at this ... subscribing a methodology we thought was very defensible," Garraway said of the panel of community professionals appointed by the city council. All six commission members, including Garraway, agreed unanimously on the recommendations before presenting the report, Garraway said.

"We have understated and undercompensated our public officials."

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