State of the City: Baltimore Buried in $120 Million Deficit

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The mayor saved the worst for last at the 11th annual State of the City Address on Monday. After touting the improvements, accomplishments and points of pride within Baltimore in assurance that the city is “strong” despite its challenges, the meat of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s speech supported her declaration that, “This $120 million deficit is brutal and will hit all of our citizens hard.”

Baltimore is digging itself out of a massive monetary hole created after the city’s resources had been spread too thin due to the recession, she said. The deficit equals 2,200 city employees, or 55 percent of the civilian workforce; 1,700 police officer positions, or half of our police force; 100 percent of the firefighting force and the combined general budget funds of the Health, Recreation and Parks, Housing and Libraries departments.

But the mayor repeatedly emphasized that through collaboration Baltimore can emerge successfully from this difficult time.

“Together, we can transform our government to be smaller, more nimble and responsive to the needs of our citizens, even in the face of budgetary misfortune,” she said. “Understand that division and discord are friends with failure and will only invite calamity. Yes, we can disagree on the specifics. But if we fail to cooperate, we will collapse into dysfunction.”

Only if the city stays focused in its shared priorities can schools be improved, streets be made safer and neighborhoods become stronger, Rawlings-Blake said. Despite a deficit of more than 60 percent of the Baltimore’s obligation to its schools, she said she plans to make good on the city’s responsibility to public education. She also suggested increased investment into crime camera technology to further reduce acts of violence, which are at a 20-year low in Baltimore. And despite a deficit that equals a 36 cent increase on property taxes, the mayor said property tax is the lowest it has been since 1972 and she intends for it to remain that way.

“But, before we share hope, we must make hard choices,” she said. “I will begin these tough choices by slashing costs within the mayor’s office.”

Doing more with less, Rawlings-Blake cut 10 percent of the overall budget for the mayor’s office; abolished the mayor’s Office of International Affairs and cancelled international trips for her employees; cut general funding of the mayor’s Office of Cable and Communication and reduced the executive passenger vehicle fleet by 37 percent and reassigned the cars to other agencies.

“We did not choose these tough times,” Rawlings-Blake said. “But, we do choose, as a strong city, to take action, move forward and recover quickly so that we are better and stronger because of this time and endurance.”