Tax reactions: Annapolis homeowners decry mayor's tax increase

Danielle Ohl

Steven Gigliotti supported Mayor Gavin Buckley because of his promises not to raise taxes.

Now, he’s second-guessing his vote.

“If he can’t keep a promise, he can’t keep his office,” said the Ward 1 resident. “I won’t vote for him next time.”

Gigliotti is among a contingent of Annapolis residents reeling after the mayor proposed a 13-cent property tax increase last month. Buckley and members of his administration justify the tax increase as necessary to, among other things, resolve the city’s growing debt obligation and unfunded pension liability in this year’s budget.

But correcting the shortfalls of past governments isn’t soothing residents, who say they’d like to see an attempt at spending cuts before the tax rate skyrockets. Those who do support the mayor said they trust the 20 percent increase will be worthwhile, but would still feel the strain of dollars stretched short.

The increase is coming on top of a state property value reassessment that hit some residents with more than 40 percent increases in their home values.

“Adding the mayor’s increase only adds to the pain,” Gigliotti said.

The increase, if passed, would raise the municipal tax rate to .779, bumping the cumulative rate residents pay to 1.435 per $100. The public will get their chance to vocalize unease during a public hearing Monday at the City Council meeting. With a final vote on the budget and the tax increase still weeks away, The Capital talked to a range of homeowners about the proposal.

Leonard Koscianski and his wife will retire in a few years. The tax increase would eat into their fixed income, he said, and could affect their ability to pay for trips, home improvement projects or whether or not a new car is affordable.

“It will have an affect on our practical life,” he said.

Koscianski, an artist, takes issue with Buckley’s proposed spending on the arts, specifically a request for an arts and entertainment position in the mayor’s office. He points to the numerous galleries, theaters and non-profits already thriving in the city.

“We have artists in this town creating enough interesting objects to decorate the interior of all the homes in Annapolis,” Koscianski said. “It really doesn’t seem to me that it seems necessary to encourage and foster art here in Annapolis. It’s doing fine without any municipal involvement.”

Amy Jones, a data scientist and mother of two, commutes to work from Annapolis. Jones liked candidate Buckley’s work on the Upper West Street corridor, but had reservations about his businesses’ financial history. She is disappointed the mayor turned to a tax increase because significant revenue from property reassessments didn’t materialize.

“We live here because we love it, but it’s less and less defensible to spend all that time on the road when it’s getting more expensive to live here,” she said.

The tax increase might mean Jones and her husband turn toward neighborhoods in North Virginia or Washington, D.C., where the overall tax rates are lower and community investment is more apparent, she said. The tax rate in Washington, D.C. is .85 per $100 for residential property, including family homes. In many northern Virginia cities, the overall tax rate does not top the cumulative 1.435 rate Annapolis residents pay.

A higher tax rate could also mean less money for her family to support local businesses, Jones said.

“We like to shop local on Main Street,” Jones said, “but the first thing that has to go is ultimately that disposable income.”

Some feel they ultimately would be able to swallow the increase, but take issue with spending on salaries in city government. Others worry the proposed budget does not reflect hard choices and fiscal discipline.

Buckley should have taken cues from Abraham Beame, the late New York City mayor known for slashing the budget amid the city’s worst financial crisis, said Al Kirchner, a Ward 8 resident. Legend has it Beame walked into a room of his department heads and said nothing more than “15 percent” — a directive for the bureaucracy to start paring down.

“That’s what I’m saying that our mayor should have done,” Kirchner said. “The budget guidance that should have happened way back when in January was ‘We’re all going to take 15 percent.’ Build your budget based on 15 percent. He didn’t do that.”

Wednesday, the City Council Finance Committee discussed whether the proposed tax increase would address necessary liabilities, but make the city unaffordable and unfriendly to low income residents as an unintended consequence.

“We can price ourselves out of various constituent groups,” said Alderman Ross Arnett, committee chair. “We have to be mindful of that.”

The committee is preparing to report to the full council Monday. By the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, Arnett, Alderwoman Sheila Finlayson and Alderman Marc Rodriguez had considered each item in a breakdown of the tax increase and voted whether they supported it, did not support it or were on the fence. Tentatively, the committee supports about 5 cents of the proposed increase.

There are some residents that are hopeful the proposed 13 cent tax increase will ultimately lower after the council is done its deliberations.

“In my opinion, maybe the tactic is we end up being happy (the tax increase is) only nine cents,” said Mike Dye, a Ward 3 resident. “I will give (Buckley) the chance that maybe this is a tactic, but it just seems like he only looked at one plan. ... I just object that this was the first response because it’s not an earnest response — it’s a reactive response.”

A previous version of this article misstated how much of the proposed tax increase the finance committee tentatively supports. They support about 5 cents of the increase. This story has been updated.
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