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 following the close of the current Monet exhibit.
The dramatic moves -- the first steps in what Schmoke calls a reorganization of city government -- come in response to a $27.5 millioncut in state aid to Baltimore.
"I think having $27.5 million removed from the budget in the middle of the year is a civil disaster," Schmoke said.
The staff reductions will take effect Dec. 6, Schmoke said. He added that the exact number of layoffs that may occur is unknown, because some of the jobs slated to be abolished are vacant. Also, he said, some employees may choose to retire before the ax falls.
Driving Schmoke's decisions was the fact that the city, which already has by far the highest taxes in Maryland, can't raise any new revenues independently. Also, he said, there is no hope that the state legislature will bail out the city with a special session. Further complicating matters, he said, is the likelihood that the state will be forced to make more budget cuts next month.
As a result, Schmoke decided to close schools for a week, even though education officials had outlined possible cuts that would not have reduced classroom time for students. But Schmoke said the prospect of more state cuts made a five-day school holiday his best option. He said the state must approve the plan for a shortened school year.
"There is no justification for what I am doing other than the budget," Schmoke said. He did not specify when the schools will close, except to say that he wants the furlough to occur during the winter to maximize savings.
School Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said the furlough will hurt education, but he said the system will work with students to make up for the lost class time.
But the superintendent also said that the school system was treated more kindly than some other city agencies.
The mayor's proposed school cuts got a cool initial reaction from the Baltimore Teachers Union, which represents about 8,500 teachers and teacher 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.
Schmoke budget officials turned aside a union-endorsed early retirement plan for teachers, saying that the fact that teachers are covered by the state pension system made the plan unworkable.
The cuts in the Fire Department will close five stations and end 252 jobs, Schmoke said. But he said he hopes all the staff cuts won't result in layoffs because many firefighters are eligible for retirement. In any case, 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 the city will dry-dock one of its two fireboats.
In making the fire department cuts, 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.
"Our public safety employees have one of the best retirement plans in the United States," Schmoke said, saying that ample incentive exists for firefighters to retire.
Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734, said the cuts will hurt. "It's going to get real scary this winter," he said.
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.
"If this continues without any relief we will see a reduction of force by April," Schmoke said.
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 of six days. Another 40 library jobs will be eliminated.