Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh unveiled her $2.8 billion budget for the coming fiscal year yesterday at a meeting of the Board of Estimates. The budget projects maintaining the property tax rate at $2.25 per $100 of assessed value.
The budget increases spending for the police department, Safe Streets and youth programs, including city schools.
Pugh said in a statement that her administration’s priority is to “attract and retain businesses and residents,” thus decreasing the property tax rate.
The police department will get $510.7 million, up $16.9 million from the current year. The budget includes money for 98 additional officers and $20 million for overtime, up from $16 million this year.
Robert Cenname, Baltimore’s Budget Director, says the department is expected to spend $50 million on overtime this year and he wants it to live within its means.
“They have positions they cannot fill and then they back fill on overtime,” on overtime, he said. “So, their savings from having an open position, but then they overspend on overtime.”
The results of the department’s most recent audit of overtime costs are being held up in a court case.
Cenname also said the budget will restore $5.5 million cut from this year’s budget.
He said the reduction in costs for one helicopter and fleet expenses weren’t implemented during the current fiscal year, so “the choice was to put that back into the base.”
The mayor included an additional $3.6 million for the Safe Streets program, just in case a bill to provide that money fails to make it through the General Assembly.
“If the state does fund it that would be a huge benefit to us,” Cenname said, “because it would allow us, before the final budget, to reevaluate” and put the money somewhere else.
The extra Safe Streets money, whether it comes from the state or the city, would allow the program to expand from four to 10 neighborhoods as part of the mayor’s violence reduction initiative.
Overall youth programming, including that for city schools is $435.3 million. This includes $500,000 for Baltimore City Community College to allow between 250 and 500 city highs school graduates to attend for free.
Pugh also added $2 million for school maintenance issues. Earlier this year, Governor Larry Hogan provided $2.5 million emergency money after some 85 schools suffered heating problems during one week in January and students huddled in parkas inside classrooms where temperatures dipped to 40 degrees.
The city’s overall capital improvements budget has been cut by $443 million.
James Bentley, the mayor’s press secretary, wrote in an email that it fluctuates yearly and 2018’s budget was front-loaded with many large projects that came out already.
The mayor’s budget does not account for the decline in population over the last fiscal year. But Cenname says that may not be a problem.
“We’ve lost population, but our income tax base has gotten stronger,” he explained. “And the data has shown over the past few years that are adding higher net earner households.”
The public comment period, or Tax Payers’ night, will be next Wednesday, April 4th at the War Memorial Plaza. Following the Board of Estimates approval in early May, the budget will head to city council for reviews.