In recent months, no issue in Annapolis has dominated the debate or been as divisive as the city budget.
Tomorrow night, exactly six months after the alderpersons and I took office, this debate will draw to a close when the City Council votes on the fiscal 2011 budget.
The $75.1 million spending plan I am proposing is $11.4 million smaller than the $86.5 million fiscal 2010 budget approved by the prior council. It dramatically reduces spending. Even more significantly, it fundamentally restructures our government in a fiscally responsible way.
The proposed budget achieves the two primary goals I laid out at the beginning of the year: It ensures a balanced budget, and it does so without raising the property tax rate.
Annapolitans have spoken clearly that this is not the time for government to ask taxpayers to pay more. Additionally, the budget achieves several other objectives: It ensures sufficient cash on hand to pay our monthly bills; it provides for the full repayment of our $10 million line of credit; it restores our reserves to the required 10 percent level across all funds; it maintains core services; and it protects public safety by avoiding the layoff of a single uniformed police officer or firefighter.
Many cities this year are facing the same challenge of having to either raise taxes or reduce spending – or both – because of declining revenues. Some Maryland cities, such as Bowie and College Park, are reducing their budgets by about 5 percent. Others, such as Gaithersburg and Westminster, are reducing their budgets by as much as 9 percent. Of these four cities, all but College Park are raising the tax rate for fiscal 2011.
To my knowledge, Annapolis is making the single-largest budget reduction of any city our size in Maryland: 13 percent. This is the amount needed to truly bring our expenses into alignment with anticipated revenues.
There is no way to achieve a budget reduction of this magnitude without impacting employees. Regrettably, not only have I had to lay off more than 30 employees, but our workforce is earning less and paying more. I am grateful to our dedicated public employee unions for agreeing to accept furlough days, wage concessions and increased health care costs. These concessions are vitally important for the city to survive this budget crisis.
Taxpayers also are going to feel the impact through reduced services. Trash collection is being cut back from twice weekly to once per week. Certain bus routes are being eliminated and hours of operation curtailed. I also am asking the council to raise a handful of fees such as water rates and bus fares, but only where necessary to more accurately cover the cost of providing the service. I am not using the budget crisis as an excuse to raise fees across the board. Instead, I will be working with the council to objectively analyze fee rates later this year.
The proposed budget is the product of much input and collaboration from scores of alderpersons, employees and involved citizens. Some people believe it cuts too much; others believe it does not cut enough. I believe it takes the right approach to ensure effective delivery of services while providing the best value to the taxpayer.
This extraordinary budget crisis has been unprecedented for our city government. It has challenged all of us who serve as city employees in ways we never would have expected. But at the heart of every crisis lies an opportunity. Tomorrow night, the City Council will have a unique opportunity to lay a solid foundation for a new era of fiscal responsibility.
The fiscal 2011 budget is not the end of the process; it is the first step in a continuing journey to make City Hall more effective, efficient and transparent. Together, we will make Annapolis the best-run city in Maryland.
The writer is the mayor of Annapolis.