The Baltimore City Council voted to support more than $20 million in tax increases June 7, enough to stave off nearly all the cuts to the police and fire departments that city officials have threatened during long and bitterly fought budget negotiations. Council members said the rate hikes - which include increases to income, parking and telecommunication taxes - would generate enough revenue to prevent the layoffs of hundreds of police and firefighters, the permanent closures of fire companies and the loss of the police helicopter, cuts that were detailed in a doomsday budget to close the city's $121 million shortfall without raising taxes.The votes bring city officials one step closer to closing one of the most arduous budget seasons in recent memory. Council members and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's administration have been engaged in a months-long tug-of-war on the mix of cuts and new revenues needed to close the gap. Rawlings-Blake proposed a $50 million package of new or increased taxes to mitigate many trims to cherished programs - including rec centers, senior activities and bulk trash pickups. But council members, whose approval is required to raise taxes, chafed at some of the proposals - notably a four-cent tax on bottled beverages. They have drafted several new taxes and fees in an effort to avoid the bottle tax. Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young (pictured) called the votes "a major step in the right direction" toward resolving the budget struggle. And he vowed that the council would move quickly on other proposed taxes to beat the June 30 deadline. "This process has never been an easy process," said Young. "We have a job to do, and we're going to do that job. We're not rushing anything, but we're on time and on target."
Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun