Schmoke mulls plan to revamp city government Panel recommends merging agencies

February 08, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is considering a proposal that would radically restructure the city government by merging several departments, consolidating overlapping services and eliminating financial support for Baltimore's cultural institutions.

The proposals were developed by members of Mr. Schmoke's Cabinet. The mayor instructed the 11-member panel to devise a reorganization plan that reflects the city's weak tax base and a shrinking population.

The plan developed by the Organizational Review Team calls for dismembering the existing city government and rebuilding it in a slimmer, more efficient manner.

"These are not yet administration proposals," Mr. Schmoke said yesterday. "I haven't made any decisions yet. I hope people will use this as an opportunity to make their own proposals to government."

The recommendations Mr. Schmoke is considering include:

* Phasing out city support for art and cultural institutions over the next five years. The city spends $10.1 million a year supporting cultural institutions ranging from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Baltimore Zoo.

The institutions draw more patrons from Baltimore's suburbs than from the city itself, while suburban counties contribute far less to their operation than the city.

* Forming a Department of Housing, Planning and Economic Development. The new agency would eliminate the overlap between the Baltimore Development Corp., the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Planning.

The new agency should allow for better coordination of the city's planning efforts, the report says.

The BDC, the city's economic development arm, would continue to operate as a quasi-public agency as would the Community Development Financing Authority, a housing loan fund.

Also, the Planning Commission would serve under the agency, and have several other boards, including the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals, operate under its umbrella.

* Forming a Department of Community and Human Services. This agency would perform the work now done by an array of city agencies, including the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Urban Services Agency and the Mayor's Office of Homeless Services.

As envisioned in the report, the agency would provide "one-stop shopping" for many social services now offered by the city.

* Merging the Transportation and Public Works departments, two of the largest agencies in city government. This merger would allow for consolidation of some engineering and administrative chores, including contract administration, fiscal affairs and personnel. The report says the merger could take place as soon as July.

* Forming a city General Services Administration. This agency would consolidate "support" services now spread among several government departments.

The new GSA would consolidate the city's real estate functions; assume maintenance of city park land; consolidate radio communications provided by four city departments; manage and maintain city vehicles; and centralize city purchasing. Currently, purchasing is done both by the Department of Finance and the Baltimore City Public Schools.

* Disbanding the Board of Fire Commissioners and giving control of the Fire Department to the fire chief.

Some recommendations would require changes in the City Charter, while others would require extraordinary cooperation from city department heads, the City Council and business leaders before they could become reality.

"We talked a lot about rightsizing," said Planning Director Ernest Freeman, who is spearheading the effort to gather public comment on the plan. "What's the right size for government? Our goal is to rightsize government based on the new realities of Baltimore."

Mr. Freeman said copies of the proposal are being sent to at least 500 community, business, religious and political leaders throughout the city for comment.

Mr. Freeman said the administration is counting on public reaction to "fine-tune" the draft report.

"We want to provoke discussion on this," Mr. Freeman said. "We want ideas to percolate up. We don't want to convey the sense that we know everything. We want comment on this."

While the plan is driven by the desire to streamline and better coordinate city services, the report does not lay out the savings expected if the recommendations are implemented.

"When we get around to making final decisions we'd like to have cost factors calculated," Mr. Schmoke said.

But City Council President Mary Pat Clarke said the potential savings are the most important aspect of the effort.

"The rationale for this reorganization is fiscal," Ms. Clarke said. "As a result, the fiscal note would be the first thing we need to look at in evaluating this."

During his inaugural address in December, Mr. Schmoke said diminishing resources would require city government to become more narrowly focused on what what he called the essentials -- education, public safety and the environment.

Mr. Freeman said he would like to see the recommendations in the report acted upon by the time Mayor Schmoke's current term ends in 1995.

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