After Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen was sworn in this month, he began work on what he says is the city's "most pressing issue" - the budget shortfall.

Annapolis, like jurisdictions across the state, is looking toward the budget season with doom and gloom, as deep cuts are likely to be the reality.

Annapolis faces about a $9 million shortfall for this fiscal year, with a projected overtime deficit estimated at $510,000 in a city where payroll and benefits account for about 85 percent of the city's annual $86 million operating budget. The city must also begin to pay about $19 million of debt service for the Truxtun Park Recreation Center during a time of falling tax revenues.

Cohen, in his most recent move, has appointed a task force to review the number of contractual employees on the city's payroll and recommend policy improvements. The four-member task force consists of Doug Smith, the city's newly hired chief administrative officer; Karen Hardwick, city attorney; Tim Elliott, director of finance; and Kimla Milburn, director of human resources.

"We need to restore fiscal discipline, and that starts with tightening up our hiring processes," Cohen said.

He has also created a task force to reduce overtime expenditures, imposed a citywide hiring freeze with the exception of police and fire personnel, and eliminated five positions as part of a restructuring to enhance delivery of city services.

For the previous fiscal year, which ended in November, the Police Department led in the amount of overtime dollars, spending $711,000, or 73 percent of its overtime budget. The city Fire Department was second, spending $229,000, or 51 percent; transportation spent $135,000, or 88 percent; and the Department of Public Works spent $60,000, or 45 percent.

"My top priority is to get our fiscal house in order," Cohen said. "The first step is to stop the bleeding and to impose tighter controls and procedures to reduce overtime costs right away."

Elliott, the finance director, estimates that the hiring freeze will save the city between $250,000 and $300,000 annually.

Cohen also eliminated five full-time positions: executive office assistant, special assistant to the mayor, a temporary general clerical position, chief information officer and elections administrator.

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