The Baltimore City Council tonight plans to cut the city's property tax rate by a nickel while adding 50 police officers and 18 housing inspectors to the municipal payroll. But one problem remains: It's still unclear where the money will come from to make those changes.
After an intense evening of closed door meetings and wrangling with council members and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's budget chief yesterday, City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said flatly that the council's goals will be achieved if Schmoke cooperates.
"Where there's a will, there's a way," Clarke said. "The money is there. More than enough."
Clarke and other council members said they have reached a consensus to pass two bills tonight to raise $4.3 million of the $6.3 million they need to implement the planned budget changes.
One bill would allow the city to lower its contribution to the Employees Retirement System because of the system's record of strong investment returns, freeing $1.6 million. The council also appears poised to impose a $7.50 surcharge on top of disposal fees paid by commercial trash haulers at the city's landfill and incinerators. That measure would raise an estimated $2.7 million.
"We are going to need the cooperation of the administration to come up with the rest of the money," said Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st. "Right now, the entire scenario is if, if, if."
Clarke said the city has additional money available in surplus accounts of the Employees Retirement System to fill the revenue gap and still remain fiscally prudent.
But city budget officials have been unwilling to tap the reserves, which they have estimated at various amounts. Clarke derides them as "musical estimates."
"The mayor will help us if he is interested in a tax cut, which is one half of what we held out to the taxpayers, or if he is interested in some of the services he was unable to provide in his budget," said Clarke, who was aggravated.
Tonight, the council is expected to take a preliminary vote on Schmoke's proposed $2.05 million fiscal 1992 budget. Under the proposed budget, the city's property tax rate would have remained at $5.95 per $100 of assessed valuation. At $5.90 per $100, the rate would still be more than double that of any of the city's suburban neighbors.
Last night, the council sustained Schmoke's veto of a bill to overturn the controversial beverage container tax, in a private, 9-7 straw vote -- with one member passing and two undecided -- despite Clarke's opposition.
The tax allows the city to collect 4 cents on beverage containers larger than 16 ounces and 2 cents for those 16 ounces and smaller.
Now budget officials can count on the $6.9 million the tax is expected to generate during the next fiscal year.