Making do with less

'State of the City' finds it 'sound'

Annapolis

March 15, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

The city of Annapolis is "on solid financial footing," but a half-million-dollar decrease in next year's operating budget will require the city to do more with less, Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said in her annual State of the City address.

In the speech, delivered at Monday's city council meeting, Moyer also discussed the city's support for its businesses, emphasis on public information, volunteers, environmental efforts, grants and transportation.

"This administration has been financially prudent, while at the same time moving forward to meet the public needs of a new century," Moyer said.

The proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2010 is $81,044,030. That's $500,000 less than in fiscal year 2009. In addition to valuation losses to the city's pension funds, the police and fire departments' pension funds have had significant losses, Moyer said.

"With very little in the way of enhancements, this budget requires departments to continue the same quality service with less," Moyer said. "With a thrust of improved technology and more efficiency and aggressive grant funding, this goal can be met."

In her speech, Moyer also discussed the city's plan to "aggressively explore whether the city should exercise eminent domain and condemn the Market House lease."

Moyer said the city has formally notified Market House Ventures, the private company managing the property, that it is in default of its lease for failure to pay rent and failure to make "meaningful and good-faith efforts to fill the empty stalls." She said she expects the city's attorneys to report any recommendations next month.

In a written statement, Market House Ventures defended its legal position and called Moyer's attempt to declare the company in default of the lease and possible strategy of using eminent domain against the company as "devoid of merit."

The statement added that Market House Ventures anticipates the start of the June 9 trial, where the city will be called upon to explain the mayor's "statements and conduct over the past several years and be held accountable for causing a historic building in the heart of the City Dock to lay nearly vacant and without proper air conditioning for so long."

This year is the first in which the city will see new income from insurance agencies for medical emergencies, and an anticipated annexation on West Street will provide additional revenue next year, Moyer said.

To reduce costs, the city moved from a "fully insured" to a "self-funding" model for health benefits, providing a 10 percent annual savings, Moyer said. The city saved more than $100,000 from consortium purchases of fuel and electricity.

Moyer made several recommendations for the next fiscal year, including:

* Purchasing a license scanner to enhance parking enforcement

* Bidding the bus routes to Washington and Baltimore to the private market

* Switching to "pay and display" parking at City Dock, Main Street, Prince George and other residential streets

* Developing a strategic plan that documents business information technology requirements

* Redesigning an annual performance employee review process.

Moyer also introduced the operating budget for next fiscal year, which the council will review and amend in coming weeks.

"This budget recommends some bold new steps for change, suggests potential revenue enhancements and cost savings, addresses the challenges ahead of us and maintains public service demands at the constant-yield tax rate that citizens deserve," the mayor said.

"This budget takes into account the great expectations of a great city and responsibly maintains a balance budget for the next mayor and council to work with," Moyer said.

Ward 8 Alderman Ross Arnett said that, at first glance, the budget seems "austere" and that Annapolis is in "remarkably good shape."

"Our revenues are covering our expenses," the Democrat said. "What more can you ask?"

Ward 2 Alderman Fred Paone, however, said he's concerned with the "overall size of the budget."

"I think it's unrealistic in bad economic times," said Paone, a Republican, noting that the council members have not "really sat down with the budget. ... I think we need to look at a lot of areas, particularly contractual services and employee expenses."

budget hearings

The schedule for Annapolis budget hearings with finance committee:

March 20: Recreation, Harbor Master, Economic Affairs

March 23: Public Works

March 24: Emergency Management, Planning and Zoning, DNEP, Human Resources

March 31: Transportation, Police, Finance, Law Office

April 13: Central Services

April 20: Capital Projects

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