Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake will unveil a proposed $2.5 billion budget Wednesday that would give city workers a 2 percent raise and — for the first time since 2008 — would not cut city services, officials said.
The plan includes the latest installment in the mayor's 10-year plan to reduce property taxes by 22 percent. Officials said the city's stabilizing financial picture also allows $26 million in new capital investments, including $5 million in technology to allow police officers to file reports from crime scenes and their supervisors to better manage overtime costs.
"The budget ... means savings to the average homeowner on their tax bill, and we're not done," Rawlings-Blake said in an interview.
The spending plan, for the fiscal year that begins July 1, includes an added $2 million to encourage home ownership, $4 million more for street repairs and $3 million more for recreation and parks, including a skate park in Hampden and upgrades to the Herring Run Park trail, officials said.
The budget will go to the City Council, which can make changes before approving it. The proposal drew positive reaction Tuesday from some council members, including Helen Holton, who heads the budget committee. Still, Holton said she is anxious to dig into the details of the plan.
"Thank God there are no more cuts to services — I think we're at the bone," Holton said. "That's refreshing and surprising, given the budget director's continuing mantra of doom and gloom."
Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said he is pleased with the mayor's budget priorities, including the cuts to the city's property taxes — which are the highest in the region. But he said he wants to scrutinize the elimination of 23 positions and the proposed reduction in accrued leave for which employees can be paid when they retire.
"There are always negotiations back and forth, and we will come up with something in the middle," Young said of the budget process.
Andrew W. Kleine, the mayor's budget director, said the city is negotiating with union officials to reduce the amount of accrued vacation and personal leave available to some city workers. Some employees can accumulate as many as 192 days; the administration wants to cap leave at 45 days for new workers and for current workers who have not yet accumulated 45 days.
Negotiations over leave are part of the larger efforts to further reduce the long-term deficit, Kleine said.
The proposed property tax cut would effectively drop the rate for an owner-occupied home to $2.13 per $100 of assessed value, a 1.2 percent reduction. A homeowner with a property worth $150,000 and no tax credits would pay $3,195, down $38 from this year.
Kleine said Baltimore has emerged from the recession on firmer financial footing than before the economic downturn, with more money stashed in a rainy day account and the city's long-term shortfall down roughly $300 million from the $750 million projected a few years ago.
"We've been fighting large shortfalls every year," he said. "To be able to fund current services and make progress on reducing the property tax rate, improving our reserves and increasing our capital investment and continuing to make progress on those unfunded liabilities — that's a good budget.
"This budget keeps us on the path toward fiscal sustainability," Kleine said. "Of course, you'd want more money, but with the money we have we're making a lot of responsible choices.
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