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Baltimore council passes Mayor Pugh's $2.8 billion budget, funding 100 new officers and tax break

After 51 hours and 30 minutes of hearings over the past two weeks, the Baltimore City Council on Thursday approved Mayor Catherine Pugh’s $2.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The council approved the spending plan — an increase of $60 million, or 2.2 percent, over the previous year — without any amendments and sent it to Pugh who signed it shortly after the 10-3 vote. Two members were absent.

The budget provides a modest tax cut for homeowners, earmarks 100 new police officers and authorizes Pugh to lease three city-owned parking garages to seed a neighborhood investment fund.

The budget increases the credit homeowners can get on their property taxes to 17.4 cents per $100 of value, up from an average of 15 cents. The property tax rate remains the same at $2.248 per $100 of value.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young said there were “no big squabbles” over the spending plan.

“I’m really happy with the budget,” Young said.

The budget’s smooth passage was a departure from last year when negotiations between the mayor and the council broke down into public arguments — a dispute that ended when the council succeeded in adding money for after-school and other social programs.

Councilman Eric Costello, chairman of the budget committee, praised the mayor for including that funding from the start this year. Her decision, Costello said, “made things a lot easier.”

Councilmen Zeke Cohen, Ryan Dorsey and Brandon Scott voted against the budget.

Dorsey and Scott both cited the police department’s $510 million budget for why they opposed the spending plan.

The 100 new officers earmarked in the budget are unlikely to be hired in the next year, they said. That could result in the $9 million set aside for those jobs being used to pay for police overtime instead of “on increasing recreation programming, health programming and increasing staff levels of 911 call takers,” Scott said.

Dorsey called police spending “reckless.”

“The priorities of this budget are not what I think is necessary to improve the quality of life for people in Baltimore City,” he said.

Council members also questioned the neighborhood investment fund. Pugh said the $55 million generated by leasing city parking garages will be used as seed investment for a privately-controlled fund that will invest in blighted city neighborhoods. But many council members had been worried about supporting such a fund without more details on who would control it.

Young said the mayor vowed to give him a role in choosing the fund’s board. He said he wanted community members to be appointed so “we make sure the priorities of these neighborhoods that haven’t seen investments in decades are heard.”

“I have the utmost confidence in the mayor because I talk to her constantly about how are we going to do some things in these neighborhoods that need investment,” Young said. “We’re on the same page.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the Baltimore City Council vote.

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