The Baltimore City Council approved a $4.3 billion spending plan Tuesday, leaving a $555 million allocation for the city’s police department intact despite pleas from some members of the public to cut or eliminate spending on law enforcement.
The budget, Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott’s first, includes a $28 million increase in spending on the Baltimore Police Department to cover employee health insurance and higher pension obligations.
Its passage without amendment signaled his influence over the council, something that was reinforced Tuesday by Council President Nick Mosby’s decision not to attempt an override of Scott’s first veto of an unrelated bill.
During two taxpayers’ night hearings on the budget late last month, dozens of residents panned the proposed increase in police department spending. Speakers unsuccessfully pushed Scott and council members to instead spend more on programs to prevent and respond to potential criminal activity, with some calling to defund the police department.
Following a hearing Monday night, in which representatives from the police department warned council members that cuts would harm the agency’s work and potentially result in the city flouting a federal consent decree to reform the department, the council’s Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously to advance the plan without changing it.
On Tuesday, the full council convened, voting unanimously in favor of the plan without any amendments. No debate was conducted and members of the board did not address the calls to cut the police budget.
Afterward, Scott issued a statement that said the budget “reflects the aspirations, plights, and essential needs of diverse Baltimore residents withstanding the blow from COVID-19.”
“I vowed during the State of the City address to restore faith in City Hall and prove that local government can operate effectively and efficiently in the public’s best interest,” Scott said. “The swift, unanimous support in passing this budget is a clear and direct sign of progress.”
Scott highlighted the budget’s accomplishments, including maintaining the current base property tax rate, restoring two crews to remove graffiti in the city and no furloughs or layoffs of city employees.
Democratic Council President Nick Mosby thanked his colleagues for a “tremendous” amount of work on the budget, which included a week of hearings.
Two separate bills, one setting the 2022 property tax rate and the other establishing an increase in the city’s 911 fee, headed later Tuesday to the city’s Board of Estimates and received final approval. Those bills then returned to the council and won final passage at an evening meeting.
Mosby cast the only vote against the 911 fee increase at the early afternoon council meeting, saying he was concerned about raising any fee during the coronavirus pandemic. The budget includes an increase of 25 cents per phone line in the 911 fee to pay for improving emergency dispatch technology.
Scott was lukewarm in proposing the budget, saying it did not “reflect the direction I want to and we will move in the future.”
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As president of the council last year, Scott led a charge to cut $22.4 million from then-Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s proposed budget, the majority from police spending. The council sought to redirect the savings to community enrichment efforts. But Young, also a Democrat, refused to reallocate the money. It instead went into a surplus for the 2022 budget.
Now mayor, Scott has worked behind the scenes to whip votes on council for his budget.
Also Tuesday, Scott demonstrated his sway over the panel in avoiding an override vote on his veto of a bill on security deposit alternatives for renters. Tuesday was the deadline for such a vote. While the council initially passed the bill 12-2, with one abstention, the votes have since shifted in Scott’s favor. Mosby said Tuesday that the council decided not to go “back and forth” on the bill and so did not hold an override vote; he has proposed new legislation instead.
Scott’s 2022 budget plans on “modest” recovery from the pandemic and assumes there will be no further COVID-related disruptions or shutdowns.
Revenue streams that rely on tourists and commuters have been hardest hit by measures to control the spread of the disease. The budget anticipates $13.9 million in parking revenue next year, less than half what the city made before the pandemic. Hotel tax revenue is projected at $19.6 million in 2022, 8% less than the current fiscal year, for which expectations were reduced.
The budget includes $640 million in aid from the American Rescue Plan, a federal relief package enacted in March by Congress. City officials have not announced where they will spend much of that money, which is dedicated to pandemic relief. They have began to outline a plan for city departments to apply for the funding, some of which eventually will be made available to nonprofit organizations.
The mayor must sign a balanced budget into law before the 2022 fiscal year begins July 1.