Maryland mayors are warning 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, recently 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 -- programs that have little impact on town budgets because they are funded through county government appropriations.
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 during a Jan. 30 news conference in Annapolis 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.
The eight mayors who joined in the news conference included North Beach Mayor Mark R. Frazer, who is first vice president of the Maryland Municipal League.
Takoma Park Mayor Kathy Porter described the cuts as "devastating."
Her city had committed itself to a 30-year program of street repaving and was banking on receiving $140,000 annually in highway user revenues 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."
La Plata Mayor William F. Eckman, who did not attend the meeting in Annapolis, said last week that the governor may not have understood the impact his cuts would have on the state's incorporated municipalities.
"The governor comes from Baltimore County, which has no municipalities, so I don't think he understood how hard his budget cuts would hit us," Eckman said. "Towns like ours get funds from three major sources: property taxes, a portion of state income taxes, and the from the Highway Trust Fund.
"The governor's budget proposal means our operating and maintenance budget for roads would be reduced by about a third, and that means we'd have to do things like reduce maintenance on local roads, or increase property taxes by 8 to 10 percent," Eckman said. "I don't think the governor had that in mind."
Annapolis Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said cuts to Program Open Space will undermine the city's parks programs.
"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, who was appointed by Ehrlich in January, did not respond to calls seeking comment.
But the mayors said they wanted to avoid the sacrifices sought by the governor. They asked Ehrlich to find other programs to cut or, in the alternative, to provide cities with more flexibility in choosing how they raise revenue. (Most Maryland towns receive the bulk of their revenue from property taxes.)
Special correspondent Molli Yood contributed to this report.