60 layoff notices are due City furloughs start Feb. 1

January 14, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

Alexander D. Jones has spent 20 years peering into damp basements, checking sagging porches and combing alleys for rat burrows. He has done this as an inspector for the city's Department of Housing and Community Development.

But come Feb. 1, Jones will be looking for a new job. He is among at least 60 city employees scheduled to receive layoff notices today as a result of a $1.5 million cut in state aid to the city.

Cheryl Boykins Glenn, president of the City Union of Baltimore, said the cuts mark the beginning of a series of painful service reductions in the city.

"We've been told by the [Schmoke] administration to expect much larger layoffs after the current city budget expires on June 30," she said.

The state's $423 million budget deficit and projected revenue problems for next year make it unlikely that any of the programs cut in this round of reductions will receive full funding next year.

"The worst-case scenario is that we will get less, and there is an indication that this will be the case," said Joanne Selinske, a mayoral aide who administers $474,000 of the money being cut. "But cutting back social services in Baltimore is penny wise and pound foolish."

The reductions will only lead to larger caseloads elsewhere in the state and city prison and welfare systems, she said.

Glenn, who is negotiating with the city over how many workers will be laid off, charged that the action is "unjust as far as their distribution among the job classes."

"People are being laid off with 20 years' experience, and the high supervisors are keeping their jobs," she said. "The majority of people being laid off are black males, and that's another severe concern."

In addition, city officials are upset that the state gave local jurisdictions no flexibility to determine which programs are cut.

Council President Mary Pat Clarke has asked the state to reconsider the cuts or give the city more leeway to determine where to make reductions.

Hardest hit by the cuts is the city's rat-eradication program, which has had its $1.2 million state grant eliminated.

As a result, there will be fewer inspectors to check on complaints about rats in the city. Last year, the city responded to 4,039 such complaints, said Donna A. Johnson, who heads the rat-eradication program.

When there is a complaint, an inspector is sent out to search a square block for "a hole the size of a softball," Johnson said. Once the rat's habitat is found, a violation notice is given to a private-property owner. If rat holes are found on public property, a city exterminator is sent to eliminate the animals.

The inspectors also spend a significant amount of time speaking to community groups and distributing literature about eliminating rat infestation -- a portion of the eradication program that officials said is likely to suffer most.

"Everybody is going to be stretched a lot thinner," said one official.

About 45 of the city's 114 inspectors are being cut. Nonetheless, the city will continue to send out its reduced team of inspectors and exterminators to kill rats, the official said.

Other reductions will eliminate the jobs of 17 of the 36 Health Department aides, who each year serve 2,700 elderly people, said Elias A. Dorsey, acting health commissioner.

The aides provide home companions for the lonely, fill out forms for the illiterate and urge reluctant clients to visit their doctors.

"There will be a longer period of time between when people call for service and the time we get to them," Dorsey said. "If we are cutting half the work force, obviously the wait for service will be twice as long."

Other reductions will affect government-supported programs run by private agencies, for spouse beaters, senior citizens, public housing tenants and families of lead-poisoned children. In all, those programs reach 9,400 people, Selinske said.

At the House of Ruth, about 200 men a year enroll in a 26-week program aimed at eliminating the violence they direct at their wives or lovers. Nearly all of the men are referred to the program by the courts and are on probation. But now the program is losing its $42,000 state grant.

"The waiting list is always long," said Leslie Boyd Ford of the House of Ruth. "And with the cuts, you have the specter of a man who is a wife-beater being referred to a program by the courts only to sit at home on a waiting list much longer, twice as mad as he was before he went to court."

Eventually, the cut may bring the end of a program that officials say is unique in Baltimore. Without the program, the men would be faced with ordinary probation -- likely with little supervision -- or jail.

"We have a commitment of a no-layoff policy, and we are going to try to do some private fund-raising to keep the four counselors in the program," said Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth. "But, long term, we are going to have to evaluate where we are with the program and whether we can continue it."

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