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ANNAPOLIS BRACES FOR FISCAL CUTS

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Facing the city's worst financial crisis in a decade, Annapolis officials have some tough decisions to make when they put together a proposed 1992 budget this month.

Most departments face budget cuts of 5 percent to 10 percent. The only agencies that won't get less will be the police and fire departments.

The fire department may break even compared to last year. The police department may get more money, but not as much as Police Chief Harold Robbins wants to fight violent crime in drug-infested neighborhoods.

City employees may go without a raise in July, when officialswill negotiate raises with four unions, representing police, fire, mechanical and clerical employees.

Plans to expand the city's curbside recycling program may be put on hold. Curbside recycling is now being done in two neighborhoods. Officials had hoped to expand the program to every neighborhood within two years.

"We're facing some horrible decisions," City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said.

Finance Director William Tyler said the city's troubles compare with budget crises in the late 1970s and in 1981.

"It's as difficult as it's been almost any time in the last 18 years," said Tyler, finance director since 1972. "But we'll get through it all right."

The good news is that there will be no property tax rate increase this year, Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins has promised. Last year, the city had its firsttax rate increase in several years, along with increases in water, sewer and garbage collection fees.

"That wasn't popular, but it hasmitigated the difficulty we're facing now," Mallinoff said.

However, Hopkins' promise doesn't mean property tax bills won't go up. Because of rising property assessments, the city will see a 9.5 percentincrease in property tax revenue this year, or about $1 million.

The city may also get an extra $500,000 from the U.S. Naval Academy this year, the result of a new sewer meter installed at the academy.

But despite the good news, revenue is mostly on the decline.

Money from new construction is down. Income from parking meters is down,too, although city officials hope they solved that problem when theydismissed an employee caught taking money from parking funds. Mallinoff said the decrease also may be due to fewer tourists.

A new computerized parking ticket system is bringing in about $100,000 less than officials had hoped. Water and sewer revenue is lower than expected, despite the rate increases last year.

On the other side of the ledger, transportation costs are up, bringing the department's deficit to $1.1 million, up slightly from last year. The department's deficit is covered with surpluses from other funds.

Hopkins and Mallinoff began meeting with department directors this week, looking at proposed budgets and negotiating cuts. Hopkins asked for two budgets fromeach department head, with 5 percent and 10 percent cuts respectively, to see what reductions would be made under each scenario.

The city administration hopes to present the proposed budget to the City Council in March, a month earlier than usual. The council has until June 30 to approve the budget. The 1992 fiscal year runs from July 1, 1991, to June 30, 1992.

The police department escaped cuts so that Robbins, who came to Annapolis from St. Petersburg, Fla., in October, could begin to turn the troubled department around. Mallinoff said the city also was responding to calls from residents for more police patrols in drug-plagued communities.

"We see the mandate in the call from the community," Mallinoff said.

Robbins said his priorities are to increase training and personnel development, increase staff in communications, patrol and drug enforcement and renovate the 18-year-old police station. He also hopes to improve outdated equipment.

The city plans to set aside as much as $500,000 in its capital budget to renovate the police station. Mallinoff said the money would be used for parking, computers, communications, windows, offices and training areas.

Robbins said he didn't want to talk specifics about his proposed budget. "I'm encouraged to see significant steps taken beyond where the department was last year," he said. "We've been under-funded for some time, so we're going to have to make up for it over the long term. The city can't do it in the short term, as much as theywould like to."

Robbins said he also plans to work with the Annapolis Housing Authority to fight crime and drug trafficking in public housing neighborhoods. The housing authority wants a precinct stationin Harbour House, but Robbins said the authority needs to come up with long-term financing before the police department can do anything permanent.

Mallinoff said Hopkins hasn't decided whether to includea new deputy police chief's position in the budget. Hopkins last year proposed creating the position and hiring a minority candidate to fill it.

The City Council's finance committee has set aside more time to review the budget this year, said Alderman Ellen O. Moyer, D-Ward 8, a committee member.

"We want to begin to look at the budget from a program perspective, rather than a line item perspective, so we can create a budget that solves problems and creates programs," shesaid.

Moyer said the city also needs to begin capital projects that have long been on hold, like the rebricking of Main Street.

Thecapital budget, separate from the departmental operating budget, gota big boost two weeks ago, when the state announced plans to contribute $2 million to a proposed parking garage at Gotts Court, in exchange for about 20 percent of the garage's 600 spaces. The city plans tobreak ground on the project next fall. It will take about a year to build the $5.5 million garage.

Mallinoff said the state's contribution to the garage will free up money for other projects, like policestation renovations and a proposed $500,000 senior center at the former Wiley H. Bates High School. The non-profit Community Action Agency and a developer are awaiting approval to build affordable housing on the property.

To solve budget troubles, Mallinoff and other officials say they will need to resolve a long-running dispute over the future of the city landfill on Defense Highway. Anne Arundel County rejected the city's plans to expand the landfill last year, jeopardizing $2 million in commercial tipping fees the city collects at the landfill each year.

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