Annapolis residents question new mayor's inaugural budget

Sam Brice, a senior engineer who works for the city of Annapolis, told the mayor and city council Monday that residents expect a high level of service from local government. That, he said, requires employees who cost money.

"Your employees are your most valuable asset," Brice said. "You have to cherish them and take care of them."

His comment came at a hearing on the first budget proposed by the new mayor, Mike Pantelides — a $96.6 million operating plan that proposes 13 layoffs, eliminates 20 vacant positions and imposes furloughs for all employees. The proposed layoffs range from equipment operators to high-level planners.

When the budget was proposed last month, Pantelides pledged his plan would not include a tax hike and said it was about making "tough decisions to ensure our fiscal house is in order and that we are not living above our means."

The mayor, a Republican elected by 59 votes last fall over then-incumbent Democrat Josh Cohen, has said rising costs of employee benefits, workers' compensation and paying off debt has forced him to make cuts to keep the budget balanced. The budget is actually higher than the $95.6 million budget approved last June, in Cohen's final year.

The city council's finance committee — comprised of Aldermen Ian Pfeiffer, Ross Arnett and Fred Paone — are expected to propose changes to the budget before sending it back to the full council in early May. Final approval is expected by the end of May, with the budget going into effect July 1.

Members of the city council were critical of the proposal when it was introduced, but only a handful of residents spoke against it Monday. That surprised even Pantelides, given the furloughs and layoffs.

"I was surprised more people didn't turn out," the mayor said after the meeting, though he said he expects more will offer comments when the revised budget is brought back to the council.

Arnett suggested tha one area in which the council might challenge the mayor is water rates. City rates increased under Cohen, but Pantelides promised during his campaign to lower them, and his first budget makes no change to water rates.

Arnett said the council might not agree. "We have to give some serious consideration to raising the rates some," he said.

Pfeiffer said the finance committee faces "pretty stark choices" in the budget. He said he hopes the final plan wins support of the council — and the mayor.

"If we passed it over his objection, how good is that, practically?" Pfeiffer asked.

Janet Norman, a resident who regularly attends council meetings, was critical about public access to budget details. She said it was difficult to find information about the mayor's proposal and that the city could do a better job.

Residents of one road in need of repaving made a case to be bumped up on the projects list — and said they've had difficulty getting details, too. George Gallagher, a resident of Barbud Lane, said he couldn't find the capital projects plan until someone in City Hall showed him a binder that contained details.

Pantelides' capital budget is $15.8 million, and includes projects to fund work to finish replacing the bulkhead at City Dock, and repair the police firing range and a public works building that's in poor shape.

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