In what has become typically chaotic behavior in the Baltimore City Council, a dispute between two members over the city's budget blew up yesterday into an insurrection, a 30-minute walkout and a budget that may not do what the council intends.
The council passed a preliminary unbalanced budget that for the second year will create a surplus the city cannot spend next year on municipal services but must be held in reserve, said the city's chief lawyer Otho M. Thompson.
In unrelated action, the council allocated $5 million to the city school system for this year that it had been holding for an explanation of school overspending. School budget officials said the expenditures occurred before the school commissioners were appointed.
The council cut the mayor's proposed $1.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 by $2.35 million in hopes of getting the mayor to use that money for drug treatment for residents. Final consideration will be Monday.
But Thompson believes that the council overstepped its authority because the City Charter allows the council only to cut money from the budget and adjust the tax rate to balance expenditures with revenues. The council cannot add money or earmark money for specific programs.
"Because there is no reduction in the tax rate, it would simply create a surplus," Thompson said. "We cannot spend it."
The council left the property tax rate at $5.85 per $100 of assesed value, the highest in the state.
To balance the budget, as required by the City Charter, the council should have lowered the property tax rate by about 3 cents, because members cut $2.35 million in spending. The spending cut was $2 million from the self-insurance fund and $350,000 that was to fund a study for a new Baltimore Arena.
Some council members attempted to cut about $2 million from other programs in the mayor's proposed budget, but those attempts failed.
"It was not the will of the council as a whole to lower the tax rate," Council President Lawrence A. Bell III said. "We are encouraging [Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke] in the spirit of cooperation so that he might work with us. I think all of us can agree that we could use more drug treatment."
The council gave its approval yesterday to a budget with few substantial changes to the mayor's proposal in a year that reflects $60 million extra from increased tax collections.
If the council votes final approval Monday, Baltimore would add about 52 police officers and provide $7 million in salary increases for police and fire employees. The city would fund a variety of capital improvement projects, including a $17 million upgrade to BRESCO, the city's incinerator.
Yesterday's council meeting began uneventfully but courteous lTC behavior gave way when budget Chairman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. apparently offended West Baltimore Councilwoman Helen Holton when he said on the council floor that Holton was behind a bill to cut $4 million from a $17 million proposed upgrade to BRESCO.
Holton said she was upset because it seemed as if D'Adamo was trying to make her sponsor the bill.
Holton demanded a public apology, but D'Adamo refused. Several council members left the chambers to protest D'Adamo's refusal. The meeting stopped for about 30 minutes.
Bell restarted the meeting after ousting D'Adamo as chairman of the budget committee for the evening. West Baltimore Councilwoman Stephanie Rawlings, also the vice chairwoman of the committee, took over.
"The business of the people must go on regardless of how we feel about each other," Bell said.
Pub Date: 6/12/98