Nearly a year into her reign as mayor of Annapolis, Ellen O. Moyer has led what even her opponents would agree has been a charmed life inside the chambers of the City Council, winning key votes on every issue that mattered to her agenda.
But those easy days may be coming to an end as a proposal before the City Council to limit increases in annual property tax assessments has turned into a major political scrap between Moyer (D) and a group of aldermen intent on pushing their points of view.
The proposed bill, sponsored by Aldermen Louise Hammond (D-Ward 1) and Sheila Tolliver (D-Ward 2) is simple enough: Residents of the city now have a 10 percent limit on the amount that their annual property tax assessments can increase. The proposed bill would reduce the maximum annual increase to 4 percent, the same limit as Anne Arundel County.
The bill is popular among residents of Annapolis, who have seen their assessments skyrocket as the city has become an increasingly popular place to live.
According to state estimates, property value assessments, taken every three years, were expected to increase by 39.7 percent citywide.
In downtown Annapolis and in Eastport, the numbers were expected to go up at least 55 percent. Even in up-and-coming neighborhoods near West Street and in west Annapolis, the home values are likely to jump by an average of 49 percent.
"I'll admit it up front," said city resident Cliff Myers. "I like this bill because it will save me some money."
But city officials said the bill could cost the city as much as $400,000 in additional annual tax revenue. They warned that even considering the bill could pose a danger to the city's bond rating.
Some residents who oppose the proposal argue that less affluent renters would wind up carrying most of the burden of property taxes. The tax "caps homeowners who are the wealthiest among us and puts the tax burden on the least wealthy," Trudy McFall, president of the Anne Arundel Affordable Housing Coalition, told the council.
The council had planned to vote on the bill Nov. 4. Many expected the measure to be defeated, especially after the city's Finance Committee recommended rejecting it. But Alderman David Cordle's (R-Ward 5) absence from the meeting gave the council a reason to delay the vote until Nov. 25. Cordle supports the tax proposal.
Moyer, who opposes the measure, fought against the delay on the grounds that her meeting with the bond commission was imminent, but the council voted 5 to 3 to postpone the vote.
That vote was only one of a handful that have been cast against the mayor. In Moyer's time in office, the council has voted 6 to 3 in her favor on virtually every contested issue -- including a measure to provide additional parking spaces, a law raising the U.S. Naval Academy's sewer rate and a bill giving money to the Eastport maritime museum.
Perhaps the most important measure -- the annual budget -- passed with murmurs from the minority but no serious opposition.
But the tax bill has energized the aldermen who have so far been little more than speed bumps in the way of the Moyer juggernaut.
"I never in a million years thought that there would be this kind of opposition to this bill," Hammond said. "I thought this was the kind of bill that every alderman would jump on."
Still, unless Hammond and Tolliver can make inroads on the Moyer majority, the tax bill promises to be yet another 6 to 3 vote and one that the two aldermen said they are ready to accept.
"I may not win every argument," Tolliver said. "But I'm still going to do what I think is the right thing to do for the people I represent."