Schmoke wants 111 more police, 50 new teachers

April 12, 1995|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Sun Staff Writer

With high crime and poor schools two of the biggest issues facing Baltimore, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke is proposing to spend more money to hire extra police and teachers in the election- season budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Specifically, Mr. Schmoke is recommending increases of $6.2 million for the Police Department and $3.6 million for the schools, to be taken from the city's general fund, or principal source of operating money.

The boosts in the city's contribution to both parts of the budget, combined with rises in federal and state aid, will help put 111 more officers on the street and 50 new teachers in the classrooms as well as pay for employee raises and other police and school initiatives.

More than offsetting the new hires will be a reduction of 303 positions citywide. City officials say the job cuts will be made up by a combination of unfilled vacancies, retirements and possible layoffs. In all, the city's work force will stand at 26,141 after the cuts and subsequent hires.

At $2.3 billion, the operating and construction budget is bigger by $63.5 million, or 2.9 percent, than this year's outlay. All of the increase is made up of additional federal and state aid.

The budget, to be officially released today, does not cut Baltimore's property tax rate, a goal of Mr. Schmoke.

The city's spending plan includes a provision for "extremely modest" raises for municipal workers, the city's budget director says.

It requires the approval of the five-member Board of Estimates, which is controlled by the mayor. The City Council may cut spending and make adjustments but may not add to it.

Projections are that money generated by the city -- from a variety of taxes, fees and other sources -- will be essentially flat. Money generated by city property and income taxes, which have been hurt by assessment appeals and the declining population, are projected to decline by nearly $10 million.

"Our revenue situation continues to be a problem," said city budget director Edward J. Gallagher. "It's a very difficult budget."

The budget does not take into account cuts in federal programs currently under consideration by Congress.

"We have not included the effect of the recisions because Congress has not acted. Only the House has acted," Mr. Gallagher said.

The House version of the cuts would cost the city $71 million in lost revenue, Mr. Gallagher said, while a version being considered by the Senate would cost the city roughly $36 million.

Housing funds

Of the latter figure, he said, nearly two-thirds would come from funds for the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, which runs 18,000 public housing units and has its own budget. An additional $10 million of the cuts would come from job training funds, which would affect those receiving training but would not hurt basic city services, he said. But he noted that also on the table are cuts in aid for schools, literacy programs and community development block grants.

Mr. Schmoke has repeatedly cited the uncertainty over congressional action on federal funding as one reason he does not support a tax cut this year, although the city's long-term financial plan calls for annual cuts of a nickel in the property tax rate from July 1997 through July 2000.

But some City Council members have vowed to press this year for a 5-cent reduction in the property tax rate, which at $5.85 per $100 of assessed value is the highest by far in the state.

Last year, Mr. Schmoke's preliminary budget did not include a cut in the property tax rate. But he and the council later agreed to defer some construction projects to pay for the politically popular cut.

A cut of a nickel in the property tax rate would save the average city homeowner about $10 a year in taxes and cost the city about $4 million in revenue.

Mr. Schmoke is expected to face City Council President Mary Pat Clarke in September's Democratic mayoral primary, when the council presidency and all 18 council seats as well as the comptroller's office also will be contested.

In the budget for fiscal year 1996, most of the money to hire 111 additional police officers would come from two federal grants totaling $2.7 million. The city is chipping in $1.2 million from its general fund.

Baltimore currently has 3,088 officers in its police force.

Overall, the Police Department budget is $206 million, up $10.8 million over last year. Included is money for a 5.25 percent pay increase for the second year of a two-year wage pact negotiated last year.

Baltimore is planning to hire 50 new teachers to cover a projected enrollment increase of 1,100, or about 1 percent.

The school budget is $647 million, up $15.4 million over last year, of which $3.5 million is for step and longevity pay increases for teachers and other employees.

Among the reductions will be 114 firefighting positions, to consist of expected retirements between now and July and about 70 vacancies to be left unfilled, leaving the department with 1,732 firefighters.

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