An emotional crowd of Stanton Community Center advocates vehemently protested Annapolis Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins' $60.7 million construction budget last night at a city council hearing after learning that the budget omitted about $2 million that had been promised to the center.
Although the council had scheduled testimony only on the mayor's proposed $40.4 million operating budget last night, most of the audience packed the hearing to speak in support of the community center in the Clay Street neighborhood.
More than a dozen people spoke about it before Hopkins put an end to testimony on his capital budget, which is scheduled for a hearing Thursday.
"The future belongs to our children, and that building over there is very, very important to our children," said the Rev. Leroy Bowman of the neighborhood's First Baptist Church. "I don't think we need to get down on our knees to tell you what's going on."
Hopkins replied, "I hear you. I hear you loud and clear." The mayor also said that a group of council members would meet Friday to look for money that could be shifted in the budget.
Several audience members expressed outrage that the mayor's office had failed to inform the community that funding for the center had been cut. Stanton officials didn't find out until last week, when the council's finance committee found there was no money slated to renovate the historic building in which the center is situated.
The center, in a building that once housed the first high school for blacks in Anne Arundel County, provides activities for hundreds of local youths and adults.
Programs held there include weekly food distribution to the needy, dances for teen-agers, sports activities and summer day camps. Also provided are sex education classes and counseling on pregnancy and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
Residents say they are concerned that without proper funding, the building will continue to deteriorate and young people will be left without a place to go after school and on weekends.
"I am a product of that building," said Joyce Ann Dobson, a resident of Clay Street. "I watch the many children who go in and out of that building every night. They have nowhere else to go. My heart breaks. I beg you, I plead with you to look into your hearts, look into the budget to find that money."
Joseph Zastrow Simms, the city's unofficial black mayor and first director of the center, called on a majority of the council to publicly agree to find money for the center in the budget for fiscal year 1998, which begins July 1.
Aldermen Dean L. Johnson, a Ward 2 Independent, and Democrats Samuel Gilmer of Ward 3, Carl O. Snowden of Ward 5 and Ellen O. Moyer of Ward 8 pledged their support. Alderman Shepard Tullier, a Ward 4 Democrat, also agreed, saying it will take "very, very creative book juggling to make this happen."
The council also heard from skateboarding enthusiasts who asked that the city provide about $25,000 as seed money to design a proposed 16,500-square-foot skate park near Bates Middle School.
By almost 9 p.m., the council had not talked about the 1998 operating budget, which several of the council members called "very noncontroversial."
The operating budget "has not really changed significantly from last year," said Johnson, a member of the finance committee. The mayor's proposed budget comes with no increase in the property tax, leaving it at $1.69 per $100 of assessed value.
"We'd like to chip a penny or two off of that," Johnson said, but he added that it would be difficult because of the many construction projects planned for the year.
Pub Date: 4/29/97