The Baltimore City Board of Estimates was created by the new 1898 municipal charter, and its first meeting was held on March 20, 1900. The composition of the board and its duties have changed over the years, but its three main functions - to prepare the annual budget, oversee the city's income and expenditures, and regulate the use of city property - have remained the same.
The major function of the Board of Estimates each year is to prepare the city's budget, known as the ordinance of estimates. To do this the board receives information on each department's anticipated expenses (these official records of appropriations are in series 5). The board also estimates the amounts needed for capital improvements and previously committed by law or by contract and also gathers information on the city's anticipated income from licenses, fees, rents, and taxes.
Once the budget is prepared the board's main activity is to oversee spending; the record of this activity is its minutes (series 1) and administrative files (series 3). Large expenditures must be bid and currently the Board of Estimates awards bids, although until 1946 expenditures over $500 were bid and contracts awarded by the Board of Awards (see RG 37). Then workcosting over $2000 (after 1964 over $5000) was formally bid and awarded by the Board of Estimates. Copies of these formal bids are retained five years and then discarded with copies of the contracts awarded in RG 35. Work costing under $2000 is usually bid informally through the Department of Finance; these bids are microfilmed and retained for five years.
Other controls on spending by the board include the power to increase and decrease salaries and to control the contingent fund, a fund used to cover unexpected expenses. Requests for use of this fund are passed on by the board. Information on these requests is in the minutes (series 1) and the administrative files (series 3).
The last major responsibility of the Board of Estimates is control over the use of city-owned property. The board grants franchises or the right to use streets, highways, sidewalks, wharves, or any city property. "Minor privileges" to use city property are recorded in the minutes (series 1).
For more information see the city charters for 1898, 1918, 1946, and 1964. See also Frederick P. Stieff's, The Government of a Great American City (Baltimore: H. G. Roebuck and Son, 1935), pp. 84-90 and Jacob H. Hollander, The Financial History of Baltimore (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1899), pp. 360-61, 363-64.