Schmoke orders hiring freeze to avoid layoffs

August 12, 1994|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

Seeking to avoid layoffs, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has imposed an immediate hiring freeze for all city workers except police officers and teachers.

The freeze is expected to last until the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

Mr. Schmoke said at his weekly news briefing yesterday that the freeze was necessary because of projections that revenues from income and property taxes would grow by only 1 percent as of July 1, 1995.

"I am ordering a complete personnel hiring freeze for all departments, excluding the hiring of police and teachers as appropriate to meet enrollment needs. This action is necessary to minimize what may be the need for layoffs next year as we prepare our next year's budget," he said.

Mr. Schmoke said he could not say immediately how many positions might be affected or how much money might be saved. But a freeze imposed in 1989 saved between $2 million and $3 million, he said.

The city has about 26,500 workers, down from 30,000 several years ago. In the 1993 calendar year, the city hired 369 employees for jobs other than teachers or police, according to city personnel director Jesse Hoskins.

By imposing the freeze now, Mr. Schmoke said, the city will be able to meet its contractual obligations to its unions.

The freeze should not affect city services, the mayor said.

Despite the city's financially strapped condition, Mr. Schmoke defended the nickel cut in the city's property tax rate in the current fiscal year to $5.85 per $100 of assessed value. He said he expects an updated long-term financial plan for the city to continue to call for small annual cuts in the tax rate, which is the highest in the state.

"It is likely that we will continue some minimal property tax relief each year over the next four fiscal years, because of our sense that we gain more in the long run by reducing the property tax than we lose," he said.

"By providing people with property tax relief, even minimal, it's a positive sign to our middle-class homeowners. It helps us in some way to combat the flight from the city," he added.

But Mr. Schmoke said any long-term solution to the city's fiscal problems must involve "important assistance" from the state and federal government, such as a state takeover of the Circuit Court system.

The takeover of the Circuit Court and the city state's attorney's office would save the city $19 million a year, the mayor said.

For years, the city has unsuccessfully sought such a takeover, which would require approval of the General Assembly. But Mr. Schmoke said, "There's a growing consensus that a takeover is appropriate, even if it's done on a phased-in basis, a couple of counties at a time."

The mayor said he also would like to see a change in the distribution of the piggyback income tax, so that it goes to jurisdictions where taxpayers work, rather than where they live, as is now the case.

"It's those types of changes that are going to be necessary in the future if we're going to continue to be a viable economic entity," the mayor said.

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