For the past year, Samuel Holmes, Pamela Li and other residents of south Charles Village have been struggling to keep their neighborhood clean, crime-free and headed in the right direction. So the news yesterday of widespread cuts in city services -- including the demise of a nearby fire station -- hit them especially hard.
Theirs is a neighborhood at a crossroads, where a stretch of abandoned city-owned buildings serves as a constant reminder of what needs to be done and who needs to do it. And within a several block area of this community that straddles 25th Street, there are three landmarks -- a school, a firehouse and a library branch -- that reflect the impact that cuts announced by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke could have on a neighborhood.
"We're trying really hard to bring everybody together," said Ms. Li, who has lived in the 2400 block of Calvert Street with her husband, Mr. Holmes, for six years. "I guess that's why I'm disappointed, because more and more people are going to say, 'Why am I living in the city?' I don't want to give up hope on the city, because it has so much to offer."
When Charles I. Richards got the word that city schools would close for a week, he was on cafeteria duty at the Margaret Brent Elementary School on East 26th Street. Mr. Richards, president of the school's parent-teacher organization and a classroom volunteer, was stunned by the news of the furloughs and library closings.
"It sends a chill through my spine, for the simple fact I can't believe they are doing this to children," said Mr. Richards, whose 10-year-olddaughter is a fifth-grader at Margaret Brent. "With the libraries, if they close them down, where are they [students] going to go?"
In South Baltimore, where the Locust Point community will lose its fire station on Fort Avenue, the breadth and depth of the cuts convinced Elizabeth Scott that city residents should pressure Washington for increased aid to cities such as Baltimore.
"We as a community of residents need to take issue with the federal government, which is disinvested in the city," said Ms. Scott, executive director of the Coalition of Peninsula Organizations, an umbrella group of community organizations. "The middle class is being squeezed tighter and tighter for services that are dwindling. We need to demand a reprioritizing of our [national] agenda. America is known for the vibrancy of our cities."
Lois Garey, executive director of HARBEL, a coalition of community groups in the Harford Road corridor, agreed.
"The state is having financial problems. The country is having financial problems. We should start in Washington and have everyone work together and forget partisan politics and next year's election and pull this country together now. People are hurting," Ms. Garey said. "When times are hard, the need for services is higher than ever before and the ability to provide them is diminished."
But with more state budget cuts looming, some city residents wondered how much more might be at stake. Mr. Holmes of south Charles Village worries that commitments made by the city to help revitalize his neighborhood might be jeopardized.
"If they can't follow through on some of their commitments, it puts this neighborhood in a shakier position than it's ever been," he said.
Politicians need to take a comprehensive look at the financial problems plaguing government and shy away from "the knee-jerk reaction of 'no more taxes,' " said Howard Majev, president of Citizens Planning and Housing Association.
"We remain convinced the way out of this financial morass is a combination of strategies, a real effort at tax reform, a real hard look at budgets to see where fat can be cut," said Mr. Majev. "If you're talking about furloughing kids from school, closing library branches, some health cuts, you're talking about basic human services that government must provide."
Mayor's Budget cuts
* Close for 1 week,perhaps in February, to save $7.5 million.
* Disband 13 companies, close 5 houses.
* Deactivate 1 boat
* Abolish 252 positions
* Save $3.5 million
* Close central branch 1 day per week
Close 7 branches
* Eliminate 40 positions
* 6-day furloughs for all employees
Museum of Art
* Close 2 weeks in Mid-January
* Close Thurdsay evenings beginning Feb. 6
* 2-day employee furloughs, abolish 6 positions
* No layoffs
* Maintain hiring freeze
* Curtail purchases of equipment
Recreation and Parks
* Maintain hiring freeze
* Curtail day-care center operations at recreation centers
Commission on Aging
* Reduce taxi vouchers for disabled
* Reduced funding to non-profit senior centers
* Close 6 nutrition sites, merge 2 others
* Maintain restaurant inspectors, occupational health and community hygiene by using inspection fees revenues
* Eliminate employee assistance program for all city workers