Hopeful city officials await Clinton's cash infusion Baltimore projects compete for funds

November 15, 1992|By Michael A. Fletcher | Michael A. Fletcher,Staff Writer

More police officers on the beat. Classroom slots for every 4-year-old in the city. Health coverage for 140,000 uninsured Baltimoreans. Drug treatment on demand. More incentives for low-income housing. More flexibility in spending federal dollars.

Those are all part of a vision Baltimore officials see becoming reality during a Clinton administration.

And while officials acknowledge that the federal budget deficit will limit the amount of new federal aid that flows into Baltimore, they believe the president-elect is committed to reversing the funding drought America's cities have experienced over the past 12 years.

That optimism is shared by urban leaders across the country. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which constantly was at odds with President Bush, is so impressed with Mr. Clinton's plans for urban America that members put their own urban blueprint aside.

"The feeling among the mayors was that the Clinton plan is a reflection of what the mayors had proposed," said Mike Brown, a spokesman for the group.

But to ensure that Mr. Clinton does not stray from his plan, the conference decided earlier this week to put together a task force work with Mr. Clinton's transition team on urban policy.

"They are trying to keep the Clinton team focused on what he agreed to," explained Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, a member of the task force.

While he is optimistic, Mr. Schmoke cautioned against expecting any immediate dramatic changes. But he said Mr. Clinton's plan to invest in "ready-to-go" projects, including street and bridge repairs and renovation of public facilities, could have a quick impact on the city.

"The ready-to-go projects are a matter of will, not wallet," he said. "That is something we should see right away."

Mr. Clinton plans to spend federal money to upgrade the nation's infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports and "new technologies." Mr. Clinton plans to fund some of the projects shortly after assuming office in January as a way of jump-starting the economy.

Baltimore has 70 projects vying for that early federal funding. Among them are the conversion of the old school system headquarters on 25th Street into housing for the elderly, development of an abandoned fire station on McCulloh Street into a day-care center, and a host of building, bridge and street repairs.

Other programs promised by the president-elect will take longer to implement.

"The bulk of his domestic policy will be introduced in his first year and a half," Mr. Schmoke predicted. "But some of these things will be the subject of drawn-out debate."

An eventual overhaul of the nation's health insurance system could have a big impact in Baltimore. Mr. Clinton's plan to provide health insurance for all Americans would cover 140,000 Baltimore residents now without coverage.

"Eventually, we expect to see a redistribution of federal spending, and more money coming to health," said Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's health commissioner.

Dr. Beilenson believes Mr. Clinton will provide more federal aid for school health clinics and family planning programs. Both would be boons to Baltimore, which has one of the nation's highest teen pregnancy rates.

Mr. Clinton also supports drug treatment on demand, although Mr. Beilenson was less optimistic.

"I think the only way you'd see that would be to redirect money from the criminal justice side," Dr. Beilenson said, adding that such a shift appears to be a distant prospect.

Education officials are cheered by Mr. Clinton's promise to fully fund Head Start, a federal program that provides education and health care to preschoolers. Currently, Baltimore schools have room for only half of the city's 10,000 eligible 4-year-olds.

Mr. Clinton has pledged to put 100,000 new police officers on the job nationwide. That would be a plus in Baltimore, where budget crises have kept the Police Department below full strength even as the city is experiencing a record wave of violent crime. Currently, the city has 195 vacancies in its 3,039-member Police Department.

The impending return of a Democrat to the White House also has housing officials crossing their fingers and beginning to draw their wish lists.

Citizens for Planning and Housing Association, a non-profit agency, formed a 12-member "action team" to identify housing problems and recommend solutions.

"To think that right now we would be able to rebuild our communities with no federal money is cuckoo," said Hathaway Ferebee, executive director of CPHA. "How do you do it? I just don't know. We need the kind of money that was used to wage the gulf war."

At the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center, Director Vincent Quayle hopes to see a return of low-interest renovation loans to keep young homeowners from moving to the suburbs.

Mr. Quayle also would like to see federal money used to develop alternative housing for elderly city residents so that they can move out of their homes and make way for young homeowners.

At the top of city housing Commissioner Robert Hearn's list is a $58.5 million, seven-year plan to tear down five of the six crime-infested high-rise towers of Lafayette Courts and replace them with row houses. The remaining tower would be converted to housing for the elderly.

Other city housing plans awaiting federal approval include:

* A $1.1 million development of low- to moderate-income housing in the Penn-North neighborhood.

* Conversion of a former YMCA near Bolton Hill to apartments.

* Acquisition of 20 buildings in the 900 block of Whitelock St. in Reservoir Hill for residential and commercial redevelopment.

"Any increase in resources is an advantage," Mr. Hearn said. "Even if there is a minimal increase, combined with flexibility I think it will be better."

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