By July 1, the City of Annapolis will be operating on a budget of $75.1 million. The Mayor’s budget proposal, Ordinance No. O-09-10, passed with two amendments in a 6 to 3 vote by the City Council on Monday night. Those opposed were Alderman Frederick Paone (R-Ward 2), Alderman Matthew Silverman (D-Ward 5) and Alderman Ross Arnett (D-Ward 8).
The two amendments to the budget will not affect the impending department and service cuts. These include Alderman Sheila Finlayson’s motion to move $5,000 of the proposed $18,000 slated for the University of Maryland-College Park archaeology program fund to the Anne Arundel Arts Council, as well as Alderman Richard Israel’s amendment for the City Council to reconvene on Nov. 1 to propose new legislation—more cuts—should the budget fail to meet its $75.1 million target.
Paone motioned for the suspension of all grants, an allotted $205,000, for the next fiscal year, as well as for the elimination of the only full-time employee being added to the municipal payroll—a third attorney to the backlogged City Attorney’s Office—and to reallocate the position’s $140,000 salary across the Major Crimes and Investigations Unit and contractual employees in the Police Department, while shoring up the remainder, approximately $60,000, in the cash reserves. Both motions were voted down.
The vote for the FY 2011 budget is the culmination of nearly 6 weeks of negotiating the Mayor’s $80 million budget originally proposed March 8. It was Cohen’s first budget process as mayor.
“When I first took office I used the term of ‘train wreck’ to describe the city’s financial situation,” Cohen said. “We’ve now turned that train around…We’ve done the heavy lifting.”
The Mayor’s relief efforts will allow Annapolis to operate at $11.3 million less than last year, a 13 percent decrease. City services will be slashed by $1.2 million. Bus transportation routes will be among the first services to go, such as the C-60 North Star Route to BWI-Marshall Airport & Arundel Mills Mall. (The C-40 Route to Edgewater-Annapolis-Arnold is also in question.) Renegotiated contracts with the four unions—The International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1926, the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, and the American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, Local 3406 and Local 3162—were also passed, netting the city $969,330.
A 25 percent increase in water rates, projecting $660,000 in revenue to the city, also passed in the City Council.
But while there is a strong sense among Council members that, while the “train” has been righted, much remains to be done.
After the session adjourned, 20 minutes past 11 p.m., Finance Director Tim Elliott let out a restrained sigh of relief. “It was a grueling process,” Elliot said. “This part (the passing of the budget) is over. Now we have to see how the retirements come in and start working out the other contingencies.”
Retirement numbers and “contingencies”—the city is looking to achieve $1.5 million in cuts to the Transportation Department, as well as increasing the revenue made from Recreation and Parks fees from $1.2 million to $1.5million, Public Information Officer Phillip McGowan said—were major concerns for the aldermen opposed to passing the budget.
“The bottom line is, we don’t know how much we’re going to save from retirements or from the Recreation [and Parks] fund,” Paone told the Council.
“I don’t believe [the budget] is balanced,” Paone said. “It is made on assumptions…Other cuts could have been made.”
Cohen responded to these concerns during Monday night’s City Council Session. Recognizing that the City Council must approve a budget by law by July 1, Cohen said the budget is “reasonable” and recognizes that “more cuts will come if revenues are not met.”
Alderman Israel, who voted to pass the budget, said that overall the process was a typical performance of the City Council.
“It was a very good process, and very civil even in disagreement,” Israel said. “I commend the mayor for holding the line and not raising taxes.”
As Cohen’s salvaged train tentatively chugs along its new path, his office will be keeping close tabs on its progress. “We’ll be monitoring expenses month to month, even week to week,” Cohen said. “The budget is not the end of the story…There’s a lot more work to be done.”