The Case for a Smaller City Council

Baltimore City faces an understaffed police force, an underfunded public school system and an underpopulated city that is at its lowest in 100 years. The oversized and expensive Baltimore City Council is always brainstorming to find solutions to its never-ending problem of the city’s budget shortfall in revenue.

On Nov. 6, 2018, Baltimore City voters may be able to assist the council in cutting some of its expenses if voters are provided with the opportunity to vote on whether they want to reduce the size of the City Council to 10 and retain the City Council president, but this vote will only happen if the community-based petition reaches 10,000 signatures for the referendum to occur.

Baltimore City has 15 council members, with the annual salary of the council president at $116,000, the vice president at $75,000 and the remaining council members receiving $68,000, all operating without fear of an independent auditor to confirm their required part-time work.

In November 2002, city voters faced a similar question about reducing the number of the part-time city council members, each of whom had an annual salary of at least $48,000, from 19 to 15. It passed by an astounding 68 percent, even though a vast majority of Baltimore City elected officials fought hard to oppose it, unleashing highfalutin political consultants to develop counter talking points and create political spin. Since 2002, the salary of the city council has climbed, justifying a re-evaluation of its numbers.

Although no two jurisdictions are identical, the surrounding growing jurisdictions provide evidence that local governments with similar populations can govern effectively and competently with less council members. Anne Arundel County has seven part-time members to govern 550,000 residents, and Baltimore County has seven part-time members to govern 820,000. Even if you look outside of Maryland to cities that have similar populations, a vast majority govern with less council members. Baltimore City’s 15 council members govern a population of only 614,000. Some attribute the counties’ growth to their property tax rates: Baltimore County has a rate of $1.10 per $100 of assessed value, and Anne Arundel County 95 cents per $100 of assessed value, compared with Baltimore City’s unwelcoming rate of $2.25, the highest in the state. This high rate causes self-inflicted damage, resulting in many leaving the city.

Baltimore City voters should sign the petition to reduce the size of the large and expensive Baltimore City Council, so its cost does not continue to get heavier on those taxpayers who stay.

The petition can be viewed at smarterbaltimoregov.com.

David Placher is chairman of Smarter Baltimore Gov.

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