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Annapolis passes $147M operating budget, adds funds for Stanton Community Center, bus shelters

The Annapolis City Council passed next year’s budgets Monday night, approving several additional amendments introduced by the council’s youngest member that fund infrastructure improvements at Stanton Community Center, new bus shelters and internships in the office of law.

The four-hour meeting was dominated by discussion on six amendments introduced by Alderman DaJuan Gay, D-Ward 6, who was participating in his first budget process.

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At 11 p.m. the $147 million operating budget plan passed by a 6-3 margin. Aldermen Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, Rob Savidge, D-Ward 7 and Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, voted no.

Mayor Gavin Buckley introduced the budget more than two months ago just as the coronavirus pandemic was taking hold, which darkened the projected revenue forecast significantly. A modest 1.2% increase over last year, the budget included an expected shortfall between total revenue and expenditures for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The council made up that difference with the use of reserve funds, general fund cuts and more than a million dollars in proposed savings from unfilled city jobs.

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The council also passed the roughly $228 million capital budget, which covers planned improvements over a six-year period.

Buckley promised the bill would have no new taxes. And while that’s technically true, some residents’ tax bills will go up after the council rejected a proposal to lower the city’s constant yield rate.

Despite appearing frustrated at times by the proceedings, Gay was still able to get three of his amendments passed, including one that adds $150,000 to next year’s capital budget in the city facility improvements project for infrastructure improvements and a facility condition study at the Stanton Community Center. The amendment passed unanimously.

The council approved a number of capital projects including funding for a playground at Pip Moyer Center and new multi-space parking kiosks downtown.

The additional money will be funded by general obligation bonds and be used to start improvements at the facility including a new shower room, a new basketball floor and the replacement of other floors in the building.

Buckley appeared to jest with Gay calling the meeting “The Alderman Gay Show.” They later talked about the process, with Buckley saying, “We love your passion. It’s been exciting to go through this with you.”

The additional money will be funded by general obligation bonds and be used to start improvements at the facility including a new shower room, a new basketball floor and the replacement of other floors in the building, City Manager David Jarrell said.

Another Gay amendment transferring $25,000 from the general fund to the transportation fund to replace two bus shelters on President Street also passed.

One of Gay’s amendments would have cut $110,000 from the police department’s contract services for the Anne Arundel County Mobile Crisis Response Team. The amendment failed after significant debate.

“You know, you win some, you lose some, but you take what you can," Gay said. "So, I’ll take it, and we’ll be back next year.”

Several of Gay’s colleagues praised his efforts to find funding for the Office of Community Caring Services, a proposed office that would connect residents to services for jobs, housing, health and others. But they said it shouldn’t come at the expense of the mobile response team.

“There’s much discussion about defunding the police, which I would not support but doing things differently I would support,” Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, said. “And the crisis response team does things differently.”

“Right now they’re attached to the police department, I don’t think they need to be attached to the police department. They can be an independent body.”

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Alderman Ross Arnett agreed that both the response team and the proposed Community Caring office deserved to be funded.

“I would rather have this be an ‘and’ — we do both — not an ‘either/or,'" the Ward 8 alderman said.

The council also passed a Buckley-sponsored amendment that recognized the savings made from four amendments passed last week that totals $135,650 that will be added to the city’s contingency account. Paone and Arnett voted against the amendment. An amendment sponsored by Alderman Marc Rodriguez, D-Ward 5, earmarked those funds for the Office of Community Caring Services.

Before the money can be transferred to the office, the legislation will have to be drafted to formalize it.

The council passed a third Gay-sponsored amendment that adds funding to create a number of city internships. In the amendment, $50,000 would go into the contingency account to be used to help fund disadvantaged small businesses.

The city does not have a definition for such businesses, City Attorney Mike Lyles said, but the federal definition is any businesses in which 51% of management is from an ethnic group that has been historically discriminated against.

Another $50,000 would go to the Mayor’s Office to pay for internships in city departments and enhance African American and Hispanic Liaison programs. The Office of Law would receive $25,000 to pay for legal interns.

Rodriguez praised the funding for internships, which he said could help young underserved residents find opportunities.

Finlayson asked Lyles if he has specifically needed such interns. Lyles replied that he had initially asked for them in an early budget request but the funding was later cut after the city manager requested that departments make additional cuts.

“I haven’t asked anyone to put them back in,” Lyles said. “Alderman Gay’s insertion of it is appreciated, but it was certainly not requested by our office.”

Paone, the lone Republican on the council, chided his colleagues for not doing more to support residents, some of whom will see their tax bills increase next year.

“The budget that we have is not balanced. It’s illegal,” Paone said prior to the final vote. “Every definition I found ... all indicated that a balanced budget is one where the expenditures, do not exceed the revenues. We don’t have that here."

Paone argued that a more dire financial situation could be looming next year because the council failed to make deeper cuts to address the imbalance between revenues and spending, a sentiment Savidge agreed with.

“This is something we absolutely need to address,” he said. "And I hope we can have a conversation with you next year.

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