Council OKs $57.5 million budget that cuts tax rate


Annapolis city council members unanimously adopted last night a $57.5 million budget that will enable the state capital to bolster its Police Department, raise salaries for city workers and lower the property tax rate.

The council approved Mayor Ellen O. Moyer's budget plan after making minor changes, including the addition of funds to improve traffic around Mills-Parole Elementary School and elsewhere, and a reduction in the amount spent by the city on part-time laborers.

The budget, an increase of nearly $2.5 million from the current one, trims the tax rate by 2 cents, to 58 cents per $100 of assessed value.

It also includes nearly $117,000 to add four police workers. They would not be sworn officers but would work desk jobs and help free officers for patrols and investigations, officials said.

The mayor called the budget "pretty tight" and said she was pleased with last night's outcome. "It reflects a lot of good fiscal management," she said.

The increase is largely the result of a 3 percent cost-of-living raise and higher health care costs for city employees.

No one dissented in the final voice vote. Earlier, four aldermen failed to win the fifth vote needed to pass several other amendments, including one that would have added $200,000 to the Fire Department's budget.

Alderwoman Sheila M. Tolliver, a Democrat who sponsored the failed amendments, said some council members favored only amendments proposed by the finance committee appointed by the mayor.

"I'm disappointed that the process is not more open," Tolliver said.

Moyer said the finance committee is charged with gathering public input and submitting recommendations to the rest of the council. Other members are welcome to attend finance committee hearings, she said.

"What we had tonight was a set of amendments that had not been shared with the finance committee," Moyer said of the failed proposals. "That's not a good public service."

Despite the property tax rate cut, many homeowners can expect to pay higher property taxes because of rising values.

Last year, state officials said the assessed value of city homes had jumped an average of 40 percent over three years. The new assessments are being phased in because state law limits increases to 10 percent a year.

Under the new budget, the owner of a $200,000 residence whose assessment increased by 10 percent, to $220,000, would pay $76 more in city property taxes this year. The bill would increase from $1,200 to $1,276.

The same homeowner would have paid $1,320 in city taxes had the tax rate stayed the same. City residents also pay state and county property taxes.

Last year, the council cut the tax rate by 2.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Even with the tax rate decrease, the city will collect about $1.2 million in additional tax revenue from commercial redevelopment and annexed property, Tim Elliott, the city finance director, said last month.

The spending plan will take effect July 1.

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