Annapolis taxes: Finance Committee supports 9.9 cent rate increase

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

A crucial report on the Annapolis budget presented Monday night recommends a 9.9 cent increase in the property tax rate, a break with Mayor Gavin Buckley’s proposal.

In a summary of the City Council Finance Committee’s report, Alderman Ross Arnett gave residents and the council an explanation of several weeks of study of the budget and the mayor’s proposal for a higher rate, which would add 13 cents to the rate.

Arnett, who chairs the committee, attributed the lower rate largely to additional revenue the city will receive from income taxes.

City Manger Teresa Sutherland determined the city will receive $1.4 million in additional revenue from income tax following federal tax legislation.

But Arnett asked residents for their ideas about which cuts to make to city services.

“I want to speak for a moment about what we’re hearing from many — and with good cause — and that question is where are the spending cuts,” he said. “If you want us to make cuts, we’re all ears, but you need to step up.”

Buckley’s $120 million fiscal 2019 budget included the 13 cent tax increase to fund police and fire pensions, chip away at post-employment benefit liabilities and provide funding for street, sidewalk and vehicle repairs.

Under the committee’s proposed spending plan, the 9.9 cent tax increase would still cover these things, as well as mandatory debt service payments and step increases in employee salaries. The committee will, however, recommend less money than initially proposed toward police staffing and overtime; vehicle purchase and sidewalk, road and facility maintenance; and department-requested enhancements.

If the full council adopts this proposal, the tax rate would increase from 64.9 cents per $100 of assessed property value to 74.8 cents per $100. Buckley’s proposed increase would take the rate from 64.9 cents to 77.9 cents.

The finance committee met 19 times since Buckley unveiled his budget in early April. Arnett, D-Ward 8, along with Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, and Alderman Marc Rodriguez, D-Ward 5, will present the result, a full report of budget findings and recommendations, at a public forum on fiscal 2019 budget and capital projects proposals. The meeting is set at 7 p.m. May 30 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St. in Annapolis.

The full report will be available online at annapolis.gov Tuesday morning, said city spokeswoman Susan O’Brien.

During public comment, residents challenged the council on the tax increase and the budget — proposing everything from an independent review via receivership, to assessing emergency response, to changing the length of time council members have to analyze the budget.

Debbie Yatsuk, a Ward 5 resident, raised concern with high salaries for city employees. “[There are] too many staff being paid too much money for positions in other cities and counties that are run well, doing well with less,” she said.

Arnett said the finance committee has recommended a citizen survey in this year’s budget so residents can indicate what services they value.

The finance committee also recommended a freeze on new bond issuance. The city has about $9 million in issued but unspent bonds that will be reallocated. The committee also included $80,000 for an assistant city manager position in their recommendations.

Legislative items

The council voted down an ordinance that would create a Police Advisory Board, as the legislation would not accomplish Police Chief Scott Bakers intention to establish an informal advisory body of community members. The council will instead introduce a resolution at a later date.

The council passed an amendment to the fee schedule that establishes a time-frame for when watermen may request temporary docking, repeals annual street-end dinghy permits on medical hardship availability and clarifies criteria for permissible docking of dinghies.

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