Council again delays budget vote

The Baltimore Sun

The Annapolis city council has delayed voting on its proposed $81 million operating budget for a second time, amid concerns over the prospects of a now-dead proposed hike in the Anne Arundel County hotel tax.

The council's finance committee had originally suggested funding an extra $1 million in initiatives - including the restoration of $433,000 in grant money for nonprofits and $200,000 in air conditioning maintenance to city buildings - with an expected windfall if the County Council were to raise the hotel tax from 7 percent to 10 percent.

But the city council voted 5-4 Monday night to hold off on the fiscal year 2009 budget until June 9, after the county government finalizes its own spending plan, which included the hotel tax increase. Instead, city aldermen amended the finance committee's recommendations to replace the proposed funding mechanism with a 1 percent departmental budget cut. And yesterday, County Council members said they wouldn't support bumping up the hotel tax on guests.

"We are not dependent on the county," Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said, adding that there were no guarantees the city would benefit if the hotel tax were raised.

Moyer cautioned that the proposed budget cut could be offset by pending grant money the city is slated to receive. She also said cuts could be made in the form of delays on hiring and contract money for consultants.

Robert O. Schuetz, director of the city Department of Central Services, said he's depending on the air conditioning money, but was hesitant about cutting 1 percent from his own department's budget.

"I have very little in the way of fat in my budget at all," he said.

Moyer said nothing in the budget should be off the table: She could not guarantee the police department, which has received close to $1 million in additional funding in the current proposed budget to help stem an uptick in crime, would be spared.

The council also delayed a budget vote last week, with aldermen saying they needed more time to study it.

Moyer opposed the second budget delay, which she said she considered "probably more partisan than substantial. That's the only way it can be gauged if they're not going to come back in with 300 amendments. It's just nuts."

Alderman Richard Israel, a Ward 1 Democrat, proposed the delay, and voting in concurrence were Alderman David H. Cordle Sr. a Ward 5 Republican, Julie N. Stankivic, who is unaffiliated and represents Ward 6, Frederick M. Paone, a Ward 2 Republican, and Ross H. Arnett III, a Ward 8 Democrat. "I voted for these delays because half of the council said they needed more time," Arnett said. "But I'm very frustrated that we don't have a better sense of what we're going to get done in these next two weeks. If it's just another meeting to hear ourselves battle back and forth with each other, I'm not inclined to have such a meeting."

Tim Elliott, the city's finance director, warned that waiting to vote on the city's budget until the next council meeting could delay payments of the city's bills.

"It will be tough," he said.

Sun reporter Steven Stanek contributed to this story.

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