- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 14, 2005

BALTIMORE (AP) — The City Council unanimously has approved Mayor Martin O’Malley’s $2.32 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The plan increases spending on public safety and cuts the city’s property tax rate to its lowest level in three decades.

The fiscal 2006 budget is a 6.5 percent increase over current spending, and includes raises for city workers and more money for the police department and the state’s attorney’s office.

Mr. O’Malley said city residents are reaping the benefits of a Baltimore ?comeback? made possible in part by his administration’s focus since 1999 on investing in public safety, reducing the size of city government and controlling spending.

?Our city is showing the rest of the nation that we are moving forward,? Mr. O’Malley said Monday. ?Not for the next election, for the next generation.?

Council President Sheila Dixon praised the mayor and his budget officials for devising a spending plan last year that imposed new and increased taxes, making a 2-cent reduction in the property tax rate this year possible.

The rate will now be $2.308 per $100 of assessed value — a reduction that would save $30 for the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 and cost the city about $5 million per year in revenue.

Mr. O’Malley and council members completed a process Monday that steered $20 million of the city’s surplus toward agencies that exceeded their budgets, mostly the fire and police departments.

An additional $32.4 million went to various one-time costs, most of them after-school programs and other youth-oriented organizations. The remainder, between $5 million and $7 million, will go into the city’s reserves, said budget chief Raymond S. Wacks.

?This is a budget that puts our children first,? Council Vice President Stephanie C. Rawlings Blake said.

The surplus was partially the result of a real estate boom last year unanticipated by budget officials, and because the council approved Mr. O’Malley’s package of new and increased taxes on cell phones, energy and real estate transfers.

A year ago, the administration warned the taxes were needed to avoid layoffs and reduced services. The police department will see its budget increase by 8 percent to $273.9 million, a boost that includes pay raises.

The recent deal between Mr. O’Malley and Baltimore State’s Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy to give her office additional funds is not included in her $22.3 million budget but will be funded later in fiscal 2006.

City schools will receive $204.1 million, an increase of about $165,000.

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