Bernard C. “Jack” Young, city council president and members of the city council are engaged in a war of words with Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. (Courtesy photo)

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Council Budget Chair Helen Holton threatened to shut down the government if funding for youth programs was not restored to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s 2017 budget. What they did not expect was for the Mayor to restore that money by cutting city services.

Rawlings-Blake returned $4.2 million in programming for youth to the City’s proposed Fiscal Year 2017 $2.6 billion city budget this week.  The administration restored funding for youth after-school and supplemental programs in response to pressure from Young, Holton and youth advocates who protested the Mayor’s decision to defund youth programming.

In meetings last week, Rawlings-Blake and her staff, identified $4.2 million in cuts to city services including public health, tree maintenance, graffiti removal, library services and code enforcement inspections, that would be redirected to youth programming.  She expressed exasperation in having to cut additional city services. “We have stretched this budget to its limits. I continue to ask city agencies to do more with less, but at some point city services will be impacted,” Rawlings-Blake said at a news conference.

Young said he is mindful of the Mayor’s need to protect the city’s financial well-being but drew the line at cuts to youth programs. “While the Mayor’s focus has been on protecting the City’s fiscal health, members of the City Council have worked tirelessly to advance the opportunities available to our most vulnerable citizens: The children of Baltimore,” he said in a statement.

Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD) leader, Andrew Fosters Connors offered support to the City Council in the ongoing war of words with the mayor.   “We thank City Council President Jack Young and Councilman Helen Holton for uniting the City Council in opposing this senseless cut to young people.  Especially in the year following the uprising, we cannot go back to business as usual,” Connors warned.

Rawlings-Blake defended her commitment to the city’s youth and accused Young and others on the City Council of grandstanding. “Let me be clear, I care deeply and am passionate about the City’s children and to imply otherwise is not based on the facts.   Despite historic budget deficits, since taking office, I have increased funding to the Family League by 30% since Fiscal Year 2012,” Rawlings-Blake countered.

“I have welcomed the opportunity to have constructive dialogue about the decisions we had to make, but clearly there is little willingness on the part of the City Council leadership to enter into good faith negotiations to get things done, Rawlings-Blake said. “Instead they have relied on pointless rhetoric verses meeting their fiscal obligations to the City.”

Rawlings-Blake said she is concerned that the FY 2017 budget leaves no margin for risks that may negatively impact Baltimore in the coming year. “The Department of Justice’s review will have a significant impact, labor negotiations are ongoing with the City’s unions, and litigation over the 2010 Fire and Police pension reforms continues. These are uncertainties we must be prepared for,” Rawlings-Blake warned.

The Baltimore Police Department is under comprehensive investigation by the US Department of Justice (US-DOJ).  The City is responsible for funding reforms mandated by The Justice Department at the conclusion of the review next year. Other much smaller cities, including the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, have estimated the first year of DOJ recommended police department reforms will cost $4 million.  Rawlings-Blake cautioned Baltimore is at risk for a similar scenario.

Young and other city council leaders are determined to leave no child behind in Baltimore and appealed to the Mayor to restore funding to three final youth programs still slated for cuts.  “We would like to offer a reminder that three additional programs remain on the chopping block: Experience Corps., Cooperative Extension and the Waverly and Northwood Before and Aftercare Centers,” said Young.

“We ask the mayor and her administration to continue working with the Council to identify budget savings that would allow our young people to continue to benefit from these essential services,” Young said.  The combined cost of full funding for the Waverly and Northwood, Cooperative Extension and Experience Corps youth programs is approximately $513,000, according to program staff.