If park staff is cut, some grass won't be

April 20, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

If you like to see city parkland manicured as neatly as golf course putting greens, you might be in for a disappointment this summer.

Baltimore's parks department will have to greatly increase its number of "no mow areas" because of a recommended reduction of 29 laborers -- more than 40 percent of its force -- under the preliminary 1995 budget.

"More of our parkland will become wildlife and meadow areas, which is not always aesthetically pleasing to an urban public," Marlyn J. Perritt, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, told a briefing of the Board of Estimates yesterday.

Her announcement brought a frown from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who complained last year about unkempt areas of city parks.

"I don't like the Don King look," Mr. Schmoke said.

Besides parkland, Ms. Perritt said, the reduction of laborers would result in reduced maintenance of the grounds at 176 schools and more than 100 ball fields. With higher grass and more weeds, she said, the habitat for rodents and insects would be increased, posing a potential threat to health and safety.

The reduction of 29 laborers would bring the number of parks maintenance workers to 38, compared with 147 in 1986. In addition, the positions of four of 79 recreation workers are slated to be eliminated. In all, the elimination of 33 positions would result in savings of some $600,000 annually.

Those savings, plus a $386,000 departmental budget increase over last year, would be used to cover higher utility costs and pay for long-neglected repairs of recreation centers and parks buildings.

The annual recreation department budget is $30 million.

At another budget hearing yesterday, City State's Attorney Stuart O. Simms made a strong case for having the city pick up the salaries of four narcotics prosecutors and a staff aide that have been paid for during the last three years by an expiring federal grant.

The preliminary budget recommends the abolition of the positions, which cost $280,000.

Mr. Simms, whose office has 16 attorneys handling narcotics cases, argued that improved police efforts would mean nothing unless followed by effective prosecution.

"You've got to be able to back it up -- that's the reality. If you can't back it up, you might as well not do it," he said of the plans for adding more police officers under new Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier.

Mr. Simms said that it did not make sense to cut the number of prosecutors at a time when drug cases were on the rise. If the positions weren't picked up by the city, he said, the number of drug cases handled by each prosecutor annually would grow from 250 to 350.

"This does not seem to be a wise step," he said.

The recommended funding of the state's attorney's office for the fiscal year that begins July 1 is $12.8 million, unchanged from last year.

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