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Annapolis panel recommends studying merger of services with Anne Arundel

Two proposals in the report were floated by committee member Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, meant to address the city’s structural deficit in future budget years, the formation of a task force to study outsourcing some city services to Anne Arundel County and conducting a study to determine what city services residents prioritize most.
Two proposals in the report were floated by committee member Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, meant to address the city’s structural deficit in future budget years, the formation of a task force to study outsourcing some city services to Anne Arundel County and conducting a study to determine what city services residents prioritize most. (by Matthew Cole - The Capital, Capital Gazette)

Annapolis should study which services it could turn over to Anne Arundel County as a way to cut the long-term debt, a new report on the proposed budget recommends.

Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson, D-Ward 4, explained the recommendations Monday as part of the City Council Finance Committee report Mayor Gavin Buckley’s proposed $152 million operating budget and $240 million capital budget for the next fiscal year.

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Finlayson proposed forming a task force to study outsourcing services, a proposal that’s been floated for some time by current and former members of the council and community members. Most recently, former Annapolis alderman John Hammond suggested merging services such as public safety, recreation and parks and public works. Hammond recently retired after 25 years as the county budget officer.

The hard data generated by a task force to show the costs and benefits of such a move will be crucial to moving from discussion to action, Finlayson said.

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The task force could be created with a council resolution.

Finlayson also recommended using contingency funds to pay for a community survey to determine what city services residents prioritize. Once the community weighs in, then the council can go about making the hard decisions about what to cut, she said.

“We always talk about how to reduce spending but we never relate it to a reduction in services,” she said. “Everything we do is services ... from police, to clean water, to recreation. We’ve got to find a way, as we’re talking about expenses, to connect them to what people value.

On the proposed budget, the committee, led by Alderman Ross Arnett, D-Ward 8, recommended approval of both the operating and capital budgets, along with associated fees and fines legislation.

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Alderman Fred Paone, R-Ward 2, signed off on the report not because he approved of the recommendations but because it accurately reflected what the committee decided during deliberations, he said.

Paone said he is keeping an open mind as the budget moves to the full council but said he was troubled by the lack of cuts in spending, especially on personnel.

The report expressed concerns about an impending structural deficit in the fiscal 2023 budget and beyond, which was offset in fiscal 2022 by the influx of federal coronavirus relief funding.

That concern was shared by the city Financial Advisory Commission, an independent body that provides financial advice to the city. It recommended approval but urged the city to seek cost reductions and prepare a plan B in the event that revenues do not bounce back as expected.

“The city will need to remain extremely vigilant in managing expenses and revenues going into what may be an even more challenging FY 2023, and ongoing efforts must continue to reduce or eliminate structural deficits for when federal revenue infusions have ended,” Financial Advisory Chair Frederick Sussman wrote. “The upcoming negotiations with the City employee collective bargaining units provide an opportunity for the City to do so.”

The full council is expected to meet at the end of the month to discuss potential amendments. A final budget vote is expected on June 14.

Other action

Paone convinced the council to reconsider a bill it passed last month approving regulations for using the Tucker Street boat ramp, only to see the council vote to keep them in lace.

The regulations allow both Annapolis and Anne Arundel residents to access the ramp with an approved permit. The final vote was 6-3, with Mayor Gavin Buckley and Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell-Charles voting no along with Paone.

Paone sought to reconsider the bill after constituents complained about including county residents.

For decades, the ramp had been for residents only and allowing county residents could overflow the narrow street and small ramp that isn’t suitable for large boats, Paone said.

“I’m not sure that the council took into account that there just isn’t room for any more boat trailers on Tucker Street,” he said.

Rebecca Brenia, a member of the West Annapolis Civic Association, testified on behalf of more than 100 residents who signed a letter requesting the bill be reconsidered.

“We want everyone to enjoy our little piece of the public waterfront, whether that’s people wanting photos, or just walking or fishing or kayaking or canoeing,” Brenia said. “But in order to make space for all of those activities, we need to carefully manage the boat trailer parking in the area and are concerned about opening up the permits to all 524,000 Arundel County residents.”

The matter is not one of limited access but of parking, said Arnett, who had previously voted against the measure because it limited water access. He switched his vote Monday to keep the regulations in place.

Paone agreed that even when a proposed redevelopment of the ramp is complete, parking will remain an issue unless new regulations are approved and enforced.

The council also:

  • Approved a resolution to name a city park near 1200 McGuckian St. as “Fowlkes Community Park,” after Lloyd and Gilda Fowlkes who have maintained the space at their own expense for years.
  • Approved an ordinance to rezone a property, 21 Maryland Ave., to the C1 “Conservation Residence” zoning district. The property was mistakenly changed to C2A in 2016.
  • Approved a resolution partnering with the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis on an application for a federal grant to explore redevelopment of the Harbour House and Eastport Terrace public housing communities. The city will put up $32,000 toward the application fee.

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