City eyes move to shuffle funds City seeks to plug budget holes with fund transfers.

June 04, 1991|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Evening Sun Staff

The Baltimore Fire Department has developed a $1.8 million deficit that officials hope to limit next year by streamlining the department's command structure.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore Police Department has generated a $1 million budget surplus which may be used to offset the fire department's deficit.

The Police Department surplus was realized during the past year when it carried more than 100 police officer vacancies and when the city experienced a near record murder rate.

The changes in the Fire Department are expected to lead to the demotions of as many as 18 fire captains and eight lieutenants. The exact number of demotions will be determined by the number of fire officers who retire during the next fiscal year that begins July 1.

The savings in the Police Department came about because the agency couldn't spend its $182 million budget fast enough, Maj. Harry A. Sizelove, the department's budget chief, said yesterday.

"It was just physically impossible to absorb all of that money," Sizelove said.

The Fire Department's budget has been inflated this year mainly by overtime expenses for rank-and-file firefighters. Schmoke administration officials hope changes to the department's command structure will save money next year.

The proposed demotions, coupled with other changes in the Fire Department, are expected to save the agency $1.2 million during the next fiscal year, said Edward J. Gallagher, the city's budget chief.

The changes will affect mainly the fire officers who work on aerial towers, a piece of equipment that combines the functions of engine and ladder trucks. The new staffing levels will reduce the number of captains assigned to each vehicle.

The Fire Department cutbacks for the next fiscal year were ordered earlier this year by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who told the department to reduce its proposed budget without taking front-line firefighters off the street and without closing fire stations.

The transfers of funds to close out the fiscal 1991 budget are before the City Council's Budget and Appropriations Committee. They come as council members say they want to increase police funding to add foot-patrol officers to the force and fill police officer vacancies during fiscal 1992.

The transfer of money from the police department is among $16.8 million that is being moved from agency to agency in an annual juggling act to balance the city's books before the end of the fiscal year.

Some of the police department's surplus is also slated to go to the state's attorney's office, which is among several city agencies running deficits.

Some of the budgetary moves seem surprising.

For instance, the Bureau of Solid Waste is relinquishing $1.1 million, even as council members scramble to find ways to fund the city's shrinking corps of street sweepers. But budget officials point out that the revenue source that funds the so-called hokey men is shrinking.

"I don't want to act on moving much of this money until at least the hearings on next year's budget are done," said Councilman Joseph J. DiBlasi, D-6th, chairman of Budget and Appropriations. "I, personally, would like to see the Police Department maintain its surplus."

But the transfers are undoubtedly going to move ahead. And the reason they will has to do with the vagaries of budget-making and the city's tight fiscal condition.

Gallagher said the police and public works money is needed to plug the holes in other parts of the municipal budget.

"I can't let the Police Department spend that money because I want to balance the budget," Gallagher said. "This is an alternative to laying people off during the budget year."

In past years, the city was able to draw on unappropriated money to close budget gaps in agencies that spent above their budget appropriations. But because of revenue shortfalls caused by the recession, Gallagher said this year he has had to look from agency to agency to make sure the city did not run a deficit.

"Normally, we are able to solve these with supplemental appropriations," Gallagher said. "But we don't have any money. That's how tight we are."

Police officials say the surplus in their budget was caused by unexpected turnover in their ranks. One hundred and thirty-three officers left the 2,992-member police force in the 10 months before April, Sizelove said. Meanwhile, about 120 cadets were brought in for training, which takes six months to complete.

As a result, there are currently 140 uniformed vacancies on the police force, Sizelove said.

Even if the department had better anticipated the attrition, Sizelove added, it couldn't really have done much to fill the vacancies because of the length of time it takes to train officers and the limit on training facilities.

Moreover, Sizelove explained, the true size of the police force is not reflected in the budget. In putting together a spending plan, the department counts on carrying 104 vacancies.

"They really don't appropriate everything you need," Sizelove said.

So only 2,888 of the department's authorized departmental strength of 2,992 officers is funded. "You try not to cut positions from the budget because then you never get them back," Sizelove explained.

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