I have a number of City Council updates for you this week.
Last chance to testify on Police Reform PEACE ordinance
First of all, Monday is your last opportunity to offer public testimony (at least at a Council meeting) on the police reform and community policing legislation titled PEACE, O-12-12. You can offer testimony at www.annapolis.gov/testimony.
Next up is the Fiscal Year 2022 budget. We are still moving forward with our review of this in Committee, but we are starting to wrap things up. To offer a bit of a summary, prior to receiving the Biden COVID bailout money, the City was facing a $6 million deficit, with expenditures growing 12% and revenue only growing 2%. With the bailout, our revenue jumped up to 9%. We are balancing the deficit with other funds, as we typically do, but a number of us are looking to take some larger steps in the future years to really close the gap on this deficit for good. The deficit is really driven by staff costs, and in particular the pay raises granted to the unions from the 4-year contracts (what a mistake that was to go to 4 years, which unfortunately was pushed by the previous City Manager), and also the pension costs of Fire and Police, who are on a different (City) retirement system than all of the other employees (who are on the State system). To Mayor Buckley’s credit, he has made it a point to honor the pensions and ensure they are 100% funded, while previous administrations often reduced pension contributions in an attempt to free up more money. The larger steps I alluded to are exploring giving up our Fire Department to the County (as other municipalities have done) and looking at siphoning off certain special operations of our Police Department also to the County (also as other jurisdictions have done, such as Bowie). This could include a K-9 program, bomb squad, or other operations where we could easily establish MOUs with the surrounding/overlapping jurisdictions. We at least need to explore this, as both our Police and Fire have grown from what used to be 14% each of our budget, to now being 24% each of our total expenditures. This is not sustainable for us and we need to figure out a solution. We also need to identify funds from those big two departments that we can siphon off to fund other efforts such as community services, which still contribute to the public safety goal.
On a related note, I want to offer a clarification to my comments about the last administration. I had said that the fire staff increased from 98 to 139 employees during the last administration. That was not entirely correct. While the last administration (Pantelides) added around 14 fire employees under the auspices of the federal SAFR grant (which was designed to decline year after year until the City was left footing the entire bill ourselves), much of the increase happened during the Moyer administration when the Council decided to go from 3 shifts to 4 shifts for the firefighters. Increasing the shifts (as they have apparently done in other nearby jurisdictions) required hiring more fire fighters. The next administration, Cohen, had laid off a number of firefighters, which were then hired back under Pantelides.
Tucker street boat ramp – reconsideration to ban County?
Also of note is that O-5-21, legislation governing the Tucker Street boat ramp, will be coming up for a motion to reconsider. The Ward 2 Alderperson is planning to make this request, and I am contemplating voting in favor of the reconsideration, though I likely won’t change my original vote as I do NOT want to ban the County residents. I’m considering supporting the motion as I feel we need to have more discussion about this for the public’s sake. The intention of the legislation was/is to create a permit process for the use of the boat ramp (not the beach), with the goal of reducing usage of the boat ramp, which frankly doesn’t’ have the infrastructure to support a very heavy use. The original intention with the legislation was to limit the usage of the ramp by restricting its use only to City residents, banning the County residents. After receiving concerns from our County neighbors, I introduced an amendment that allowed County resident to use the ramp, but still banned anyone from outside of the County from using it. Such users should really be directed to the Truxtun ramp anyway, as that has the infrastructure to support such use. All that said, the residents near the boat ramp still were not satisfied with that compromise and still want us to ban our County neighbors from using this ramp. What they seem to fail to realize is that both the permit requirement and the restriction to City & County residents will serve to reduce usage. I’m likely to stick with the compromise or perhaps even go further to re-open this ramp to anyone, as long as they get a permit. If you have any thoughts on this, please let me know.
Stay healthy and stay safe,