As Baltimore City suffers from a $121 million budget deficit, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the city has three choices: do nothing, cut services or trim government expenses. None of the options are good, but the third alternative is the best way to move Baltimore City forward, she said in a statement released Wednesday. On that day, she announced a “devastating” preliminary budget that shows what the city can afford to offer citizens during the financial crisis.
“This third alternative will be difficult and challenging,” the mayor said. “It will be unpleasant; but it is the only way for us to fund public safety and other essential services.”
While she intends to release a comprehensive plan by April 12 that will fully fund public schools, patrol officers, libraries and efficient afterschool programs, several services will inevitably be cut or significantly reduced. She began by dropping her office’s budget by 10 percent.
“The funding levels are prioritized based on delivering better results more efficiently,” she said.
Fire emergency medical services, the police department’s Violent Crimes Impact Division and all currently-filled neighborhood patrol officers will remain. However, the preliminary budget abolishes 193 police department positions including filled positions in SWAT, intelligence, traffic enforcement, special operations and other units; eliminates police aviation, marine and mounted units; closes seven fire companies and abolishes 154 fire suppression positions.
“There’s no question that those kind of cuts can have a devastating impact on our operation capabilities,” said Baltimore City Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “They don’t realize that we have to abide by the union contract which is first one in, first one out. The unit most affected by newest recruits is patrol.”
Guglielmi said Rawlings-Blake and the police commissioner are currently in negotiations over the issue. The mayor is also looking into reforming police and fire pensions, which she said could boost the deficit to $185 million if it remains untouched.
General funding for senior recreation has been eliminated, and 29 of the city’s 55 youth recreation centers will be closed.
Bulk trash pickup will be cut and is expected to save more than $1 million. Residents will be expected to use the city’s five drop-off centers or contract with private haulers. Increased sanitation enforcement will help to prevent illegal dumping.
Tree-watering services will be maintained, but no new trees will be planted in fiscal year 2011. The frequency of cleaning and maintaining parks will be decreased, and for-profit sports leagues will be charged more money for ball field preparation.
Funding for vacant property boardings and cleanings was scaled down to $24,000 from $40,000 in FY 2010, and reduced highway user revenue will result in fewer lane miles resurfaced and longer lead times to repair potholes.
The $121 million gap results from a $54 million decline in revenue and $67 million in cost increases compared to the FY 2010 adopted budget. It is equal to a 36 cent increase in the property tax rate, half the police force, the entire firefighter force, or the combined budgets of the health, housing, recreation and parks and libraries departments.
“Despite this unprecedented crisis, I know that Baltimore’s best days are ahead,” Rawlings-Blake said. “Baltimore will not be defined by crisis and cuts. Instead, we will be defined by how we confront this crisis, together with honesty and shared sacrifice, so that our city can emerge, better, safer, and stronger.”