Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke today announced major cuts in city government, including closing public schools for a week, shutting seven library branches, closing five firehouses and abolishing 571 jobs.
Also, the mayor said, all city prosecutors and library workers will be furloughed for six days and the Baltimore Museum of Art will shut for two weeks after the close of the Monet exhibit.
The dramatic moves come in response to a $27.5 million cut in state aid to Baltimore that is hitting the city in the middle of the current fiscal year -- in effect doubling its impact.
"I think having $27.5 million removed from the budget in the middle of the year is a civil disaster," Schmoke said.
Driving Schmoke's decisions was the fact that the city can't raise any new revenues on its own, and the state is likely to announce more budget cuts next month.
As a result, Schmoke decided to close schools for a week, even though education officials had outlined a menu of possible cuts that would not have reduced classroom time for students. But Schmoke said the prospect of more cuts made a 5-day school holiday his best option.
"There is no justification for what I am doing other than the budget," Schmoke said. He did not specify when the schools will close, saying only he would like the furlough to occur during the winter to maximize savings.
The cuts in the Fire Department will close five stations and cause the abolishment of 252 jobs, Schmoke said. But he said the cuts should have little impact on public safety.
"Every professional within our Fire Department recognizes that we can reduce the size of our department without jeopardizing public safety," Schmoke said. "The fire stations were laid out to accommodate a population that is much larger than ours."
The fire stations that would be closed under the mayor's plan are:
Engine No. 17, in Locust Point, 1426 E. Fort Ave.; Engine No. 34, 316 S. Caroline St.; Engine No. 7, 700 N. Eutaw St.; Engine No. 14, 1908 Hollins St., and Engine No. 18, 105 W. 21st St.
The mayor also said city will drydock one of its two fireboats.
Schmoke rejected a union plan that would have provided retirement incentives to the large number of firefighters eligible to leave the force. He said the union's plan would cost the city $55 million over the next eight years. In addition, he said,
the city has made dramatic improvements in recent years to the firefighters' retirement plan.
"Our public safety employees have one of the best retirement plans in the United States," Schmoke said, saying that their is ample incentive for firefighters to retire.
Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734, said the city told the union of the closings and layoffs yesterday.
"It's going to get real scary this winter," said DeLisle.
Schmoke said that the Police Department is going to absorb a $4 million budget reduction without layoffs. Instead, the agency has imposed a hiring freeze and is deferring equipment purchases.
Cuts in the library system will mean "that in The City that Reads we will have to close seven library branches," Schmoke said.
The library board will decide which branches will close during a meeting on Wednesday, he added.
Also, Schmoke said, the library's central branch will be closed one day a week and all library employees will be furloughed for a total ofsix days. Another 40 library jobs will be eliminated.
As another piece of the cutbacks needed to offset a cut in state aid, thousands of the city's poor children may have trouble getting immunizations and other preventive services as the city moves to cut almost one-third of the grants that underwrite five clinics that serve uninsured youngsters.
Part of the overall cutback plan will severely impact health clinics. "The way it was explained to me is that the squeaky
wheel got the grease," said Dr. Virginia Keane, medical director for the children and youth clinic at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Keane and Dr. Archie Golden, who heads a private clinic at Francis Scott Key Medical Center, said yesterday they had been told unofficially about the proposed cuts.
Also affected are a clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital; the Greater Baltimore Medical Center's Community and Family Health Center in East Baltimore; and Baltimore Medical Systems Inc.
A sixth pediatric clinic, the Druid Hill Center, which relies completely upon city funds, will not be affected.
About 30,000 children use these clinics each year. Half have Medicaid or state Medical Assistance, but the others are uninsured or have private insurance that does not cover "wellness" services such as immunizations, annual physicals or diagnostic screenings, according to Advocates for Children and Youth Inc.
If the cuts take place as expected, Golden said, clinics could be forced to drop 30 percent of their 15,000 uninsured patients.
The mayor's proposed school cuts got a cool initial reaction from the Baltimore Teachers Union, which represents about 8,500 teachers and teachers' aides.
"I think it's a bit too much to ask employees who are already behind other state employees in salary to give up more money," said Lorretta Johnson, co-president of the group.
The furlough would mean a five-day pay cut for workers who have already agreed to defer their 6 percent raises this year, she said.
'A civil disaster'
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's budget-cutting plan includes:
* Closing public schools for a week.
* Shutting seven library branches.
* Shutting five fire houses.
* Ending 571 jobs, including those of 252 firefighters.
* Furloughing all city prosecutors and library workers for six days.
* Closing the art museum for two weeks after the Monet exhibit.
* Cutting one-third of the grants that underwrite five clinics that serve uninsured youngsters.