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Funding art purchases and increasing taxicab rates are among the issues to be discussed when the Annapolis city council meets tonight at the newly renovated Stanton Center.

The special council meeting and public hearing - which is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the community center at 92 W. Washington St. - mark the first time in city officials' memory that the council has met outside of City Hall.

The Stanton Center's executive director, Kirby J. McKinney, applauded the council's decision to have the meeting at the center, a former school for African-Americans that reopened this month after two years and $3 million in renovations.

"Government belongs to the people," McKinney said. "Sometimes it has to do its job and go to the people."

He said he believes that people sometimes restrain their comments at meetings held in government buildings but that they may feel more comfortable expressing themselves at the center because this meeting is "on their own turf." He said the meeting's location is particularly important because it is in a predominantly African-American community.

The center was built nearly 100 years ago as an elementary school for black pupils and later became the only high school for blacks in the county. It was converted into a community center after the school closed in 1964. The center closed for renovation in 1998.

Alderman Sheila M. Tolliver, whose ward includes the center, said she is pleased the council will meet there.

"I think it's an important symbolic statement that the Stanton Center is a community resource," she said.

Because the council is not scheduling a meeting for next month, legislative issues will be addressed at tonight's meeting, normally reserved as a public hearing.

The council will vote on Alderman Ellen Moyer's bill on art in public places. Under the proposal, the city would commit one-tenth of 1 percent of its general fund, which Moyer said equals $33,800 this year, to a fund that would purchase art for public places. It also would establish a committee that would choose what art to buy.

Moyer said establishing the fund would give the city a better chance to obtain matching money from the federal or state government or from private foundations.

"It gives us a benchmark for the city's commitment," she said. "If the art in public places passes, the value of having a formula and a set amount powers us to get other participants."

But Alderman Herbert H. McMillan questions the necessity for such a fund.

"This bill is not about art in public places; it's about whether or not you think the city of Annapolis should purchase art," he said. "There are basic issues you take care of first. Purchasing art, for me, is a superfluous task for a government."

The council also will discuss a resolution that would raise taxicab fares for the first time since 1994. The measure, which was originally part of Mayor Dean L. Johnson's tabled fee schedule, would raise the initial cost for a cab ride by more than 12 percent to $1.80 from $1.60 and the per-mile charge by 17 percent to $1.40 from $1.20. The waiting charge would also increase 11 percent to $20 per hour from $18, and a $1 surcharge would be levied for rides between midnight and 5 a.m.

Jordan Peters, spokesman for the Annapolis City Taxicab Association, which consists of four local companies and some independent drivers, said the increase is sorely needed.

"They have not been increased in a long time, and their costs have gone up," said Alderman Joseph Sachs, one of the council members who support measure. "The cost of living has gone up, and gasoline prices, we know, have gone up significantly."

In May, Anne Arundel County increased cabs fares under its jurisdiction, which does not include those in Annapolis. The per-mile fee and the initial charge are the same as those being proposed for the city.

The public will also have the opportunity to discuss the management plan for the Annapolis, London Town and South County Heritage Area, which includes a suggestion for a new visitors' center on Rowe Boulevard.

Those attending the meeting will be able to park for free at the John Whitmore Parking Center on Clay Street by getting their parking tickets validated at the meeting.

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