Maryland mayors warned last week that proposed cuts in state aid to local governments would have dire effects on cities' ability to provide road and park maintenance for their residents.
The mayors, members of the Maryland Municipal League, asked Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. to revise provisions of his budget proposal that call for withholding $102 million in highway user revenues, transferring $29 million in Program Open Space revenues to the state's general fund and eliminating the Community Parks and Playgrounds program.
Ehrlich (R) has argued that the cuts are necessary to address a $1.2 billion state budget deficit. The budget as a whole lists an overall increase in aid to local governments of 4.3 percent, but the increases are limited to education and library programs.
The mayors, while careful to express appreciation for the increases, said the cuts would leave cities without the money to pay for planned long-term road and park improvement programs. They warned that their streets would develop potholes, that residents would have to go to run-down parks and that they might have to lay off city workers.
Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter was among the eight municipal leaders to speak out against the cuts, which she described as "devastating."
Her city had committed to a 30-year program of street repaving and was banking on receiving $140,000 annually in highway user revenue from the state, Porter said. But even with the state money, "the streets are deteriorating faster than we can get to them," the mayor said. Her city council had been planning to increase funding to the road paving program, but now, she said, that won't be possible.
"People have been complaining about the condition of the streets; everyone wants their streets paved next year," Porter said. "Now I'm going to have to go back and tell them that we can't accelerate the program."
Other areas were touched by the highway cuts.
According to the league's estimates, in Anne Arundel County, Annapolis and Highland Beach would lose a combined $531,121 in funding; the 20 municipalities in Montgomery County would lose $1.8 million; and the 27 towns and cities of Prince George's County would lose $2.5 million. Howard County, which has no municipalities, will not be affected by the road cuts.
Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer did not focus on the highway user revenues as much as the cuts to Program Open Space. Funds from that program were slated to help build irrigation for Weems Field and two baseball fields at Truxtun Park.
"In a town like ours, parks are the heart of neighborhoods," Moyer said. "These amenities, supported by [Open Space] funds, have earned us the quality of life atmosphere that cause visitors to say, 'This is where I want to live.'. . . Undoing the good things that have contributed to our quality of life is not in our interest."
Maryland Secretary of Budget and Management Chip DiPaula Jr., who was appointed by Ehrlich in January, did not return several calls seeking comment.
But the mayors said they wanted to avoid the sacrifices sought by the government. As an alternative, Porter and others asked Ehrlich to find other programs to cut, or to provide cities with more flexibility in choosing how they raise revenue. (Most Maryland towns receive the bulk of their revenue from property taxes.)
"We don't need to be cutting; we need to be adding more," said District Heights Mayor Jack C. Sims, who warned that he might have to fire some of his 28 city employees to keep his town solvent.
"I shiver even thinking of that," he said.