Annapolis soliciting private donations to pay for public events

Fourth of July, New Year's Eve, legislative welcome on the table

December 16, 2010|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Annapolis Mayor Joshua J. Cohen is turning to private donors to help pay for some of the city's highest-profile public events, a move he says is necessary given the increasingly tight local budget.

Cohen made his pitch to about 10 local business leaders during a breakfast event at Loews Annapolis Hotel on Wednesday morning.

The city hopes to partner with local businesses to pay for the city's New Year's Eve celebration, as well as the Fourth of July fireworks and parade — to the tune of about $20,000 each — and an "activity fund" that would pay for events such as the City Hall open house and a luncheon for city employees.

The city also plans to raise up to $7,000, working with the local lobbying firm Capitol Strategies, to fund the annual legislative reception that the city hosts to welcome members of the General Assembly to Annapolis.

"It's our desire to reduce the [financial] burden to the city while maintaining the spirit of Annapolis," said Cohen, adding that although he hopes to avoid raising property taxes, "We're still the capital city, and there's still an expectation that we contribute to civic life."

In his first year as mayor, Cohen decreased the city's budget by 13 percent — a percentage decrease the city says is the highest of any Maryland government — furloughed some city workers and laid off 33. Cohen also initiated changes to cut overtime spending. With a looming cash-flow problem that threatened the city's ability to make payroll, the city took out a bank loan of $10 million earlier this year. The loan was repaid last month.

"When people see that you're reining in spending, and they have confidence in that, they're more likely to reach into their own pockets," said Cohen.

In addition, Cohen has created the Cohen Community Fund, a donor-advised fund that would pay for smaller projects outside of the city's grant program. Mayors across the country have similar funds. Cohen stressed that fundraising for that project is separate and that no city resources will be spent.

"We understand the economic climate," said Rob Johnson, a managing partner at Capitol Strategies. "We're not throwing out crab cakes and top shelf."

One of the attendees, John Goldthwait, vice president of community lending at M&T Bank, called the fundraising outreach "creative."

Other area governments have made similar moves as they look for visible ways to demonstrate budget austerity.

This year, Ports America Chesapeake, which operates terminals at the port of Baltimore, stepped in to pay for the Fourth of July fireworks in Baltimore City, in the midst of a debate over how to close a $121 million budget shortfall. The company has paid for the New Year's Eve displays for the past three years, and said earlier this year that it expected the two celebrations to cost about $200,000.

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