By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

Baltimore City’s Annual Taxpayer’s Night recently gathered residents, community activists and Charm City newcomers to offer suggestions for the Fiscal Year 2024 budget. 

“It’s important that the taxpayers have an opportunity to bring up issues they feel are a concern,” Marvin “Doc” Cheatham, president of the Matthew Henson Community Development Corporation, told the AFRO. 

According to a news release, the Mayor conducted four information sessions throughout December 2022 and January 2023 where residents could voice their opinions on the preliminary budget prior to the customary Taxpayer’s Night.

“It’s great to meet representatives and those who make these important decisions to hear from us and understand, specifically, why it is important that they hear our concerns,” said Brandi Kennamore, a Baltimore new-comer. “[Then] they can make decisions well-informed of what we are requesting.”

The $4.36 billion budget prioritizes youth, public safety and ensuring equity across Baltimore City. 

One of the most significant investments of the bill is the $79 million boost in funding toward Baltimore City Public Schools, a total investment of $405.4 million. The increase was required by the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, an initiative passed in the Maryland General Assembly in 2021 to better the state’s education system over 10 years.

According to the preliminary budget, the financial plan must be passed by June 26, as the new fiscal year begins on July 1.

The AFRO spoke with residents who came to testify during the last Taxpayers’ Night. 

Cheatham attended to speak about several unsuccessful attempts to get funding for a skateboard park in Easterwood for primarily Black youth. He claimed that Sen. Antonio Hayes (D-Md.-40) has discouraged their efforts on multiple occasions. 

[Hayes] said we could not find 10 people who lived within two blocks [of what?]  that wanted a skateboard park,” said Cheatham. “The second one he said was that our community did not want a skateboard park. We had a skateboard park mock-up at Easterwood. The kids were skateboarding. They were bicycle riding – they loved it.”

During the meeting with the Baltimore City Council, Cheatham presented a folder of the 200 signatures collected in the past how many years or months to the hearing.

Hayes has previously responded to Cheatham’s complaints via email saying the funds were needed to rehabilitate the park instead.

“Easterwood Park over the years has deteriorated and has not served the community to its full potential,” said Hayes. “There are several safety hazards such as broken play equipment, damaged protective fences and hazardous walking paths that need to be addressed immediately. Baltimore City Recreation and Parks and the State of Maryland has secured the funding to address these repairs and have prioritized these safety concerns with the limited funding available.”

While residents understood the need to dedicate time during the meeting to issues like youth engagement strategies are important, rent and housing security remained a key topic of discussion. Members of the local housing justice collective, Baltimore Renters United, were on hand to advocate for those who rely on a landlord for their housing needs. 

 After the session, Torrence spoke with the AFRO. 

“I just want to remind people that we’ve asked our federal partners— as well as state officials— for [help] with rental assistance,” said Torrence. “The problem is that the funds and how we get them are limited. That’s one of those hard conversations [we] have to [have] as governing persons in Baltimore about all our priorities and trying to fund them all at once.”

“We are limited as a local government in terms of what we can do and enforce,” continued Torrence. “It’s a state issue because it’s a property issue. Typically, we have to lean toward our General Assembly to provide us guidance when we do act.”

Torrence said he was happy to see the wide range of testimonies and residents’ ability to identify specific issues and solutions.

The Baltimore City Council Ways and Means Committee began conducting agency budget hearings on May 30, featuring discussions with the Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners and the Mayor’s Office of Cable and Communications.

Tashi McQueen is a Report For America Corps Member.