Baltimore City Council will begin considering Mayor Brandon Scott’s proposed $4.4 billion budget this week, following the document’s formal introduction to the council Monday.
The spending plan, which requires council approval before it can become law, includes $3.5 billion in operating costs and $888 million in capital expenditures. The proposal holds the line on the city’s property tax rate and includes a $79 million boost in education spending.
The council has until June 26 to approve the document in its current condition or make amendments. The next fiscal year begins July 1.
A weeklong series of budget hearings will begin May 30. The hearings, which are outlined on the council’s website, will be held at Baltimore City Hall in council chambers and broadcast live on CharmTV. Meetings are open to members of the public, both in person and virtually.
Public testimony on the proposal will be taken during the council’s annual Taxpayers’ Night at 6 p.m. May 25. Residents can participate in the event, which will be held in council chambers, in person or virtually.
There has been little public discussion thus far by the City Council on Scott’s proposed budget since its introduction in early April. Although city finance officials expect to end fiscal year 2023 with a multimillion-dollar surplus, the proposed 2024 budget represents a more austere plan shaped by unexpectedly high costs for education.
The proposal includes $392.6 million in education spending required by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a 10-year effort to improve education by injecting billions of dollars into public schools. Both the state and local jurisdictions are required to make increases to spending over the course of the 10-year plan.
Baltimore finance officials had anticipated a $12 million increase in the city’s Blueprint costs but were instead socked with an additional $79 million as the funding formula was enacted for the first time.
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Scott called the unanticipated cost a “gut punch” when the proposed budget was introduced and said city officials plan to work with state legislators to make changes to the formula in coming years.
This year, however, Baltimore will be forced to eat that cost. Scott’s proposal calls for making a one-time withdrawal from the city’s fiscal year 2023 surplus. The budget also calls for scaling back allocations for vacant positions citywide. Currently, about 18% of the city’s roughly 14,000 positions are vacant.
For the first time in more than a century, the City Council will have new budgeting powers this year. The body now can make additions to the budget, as well as make cuts, a new dynamic in a process that typically favors the mayor. The new power, approved by voters via a charter amendment in 2020, restricts the council additions to the total size of Scott’s proposed budget. But until now, the council was unable to reallocate any money that was cut and instead had to rely on the mayor.
The council introduced the budget Monday with no discussion, but Council President Nick Mosby said the group will give the spending plan a “robust and thorough evaluation.”
Funding for the city’s police department remains almost flat under Scott’s budget proposal. The plan calls for creating five civilian positions dedicated to serving victims of violent crime. The cost of the new jobs will be offset by the elimination of five vacant civilian positions in the department.
Scott campaigned on a pledge to reform funding for city police and led the charge during his time on the City Council to make cuts to police spending in favor of more holistic approaches. The fiscal year 2024 budget will be the last enacted before the mayoral race begins to heat up this fall. Scott, a Democrat in his first term, has signaled his intention to run for reelection, though the field of candidates he’ll face remains unclear.
The proposed budget includes an increase in the city’s water and stormwater rates of 3%. Wastewater will increase by 3.5%. The rate hikes were preapproved by the Board of Estimates last year as part of a three-year rate plan.