Schmoke seeks to trim city work force by 400 Budget crisis worst since early 1990s

January 06, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,SUN STAFF

Faced with the worst financial squeeze in years, Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday that he wants to trim an additional 400 positions from the city's 26,400-employee work force, and he wavered on his commitment to cut 20 cents off the property tax rate by the end of the decade.

Baltimore's biggest budget shortfall since the early 1990s also is forcing education officials to target individual public schools for savings to cope with a deficit that had climbed to $32 million and is now at $23 million.

Mr. Schmoke had hoped to find economies in other city agencies to help the financially strapped school system. But the city is now expecting a $9.2 million shortfall in its main operating budget of $803.6 million because of lower-than-expected tax revenues.

The grim economic outlook, which prompted the mayor to back off from seeking a promised nickel break in the property tax rate, also casts doubt on his oft-repeated plan to lower the real estate tax rate 20 cents by 2000.

"It would be difficult," Mr. Schmoke said. "So I think what's most important is not hitting an arbitrary number but doing a comprehensive review of all our city activities to determine what we're going to do and what we're going to stop doing."

His position dismayed a homeowners group. David B. Rudow, executive vice president of the Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition, said modest tax reductions, even if mainly symbolic, signal the city's concern for its middle-class homeowners. At $5.85 per $100 of assessed value, the city's property tax rate is the highest in Maryland.

"All we're trying to do is give some encouragement to people to stay here," Mr. Rudow said.

Mr. Schmoke announced Thursday that he would not seek the 5-cent tax cut he promised during the hard-fought mayoral campaign, saying the city could not afford the $4 million loss in revenue that would mean in the next fiscal year, which begins in July.

Pointing to the declining revenues from property taxes, income taxes and interest earnings, he also said the city will not be able to give its workers a raise and warned of possible layoffs in the spring.

Mr. Schmoke provided more details yesterday of his plan to deal with the city's budget woes. He is proposing cutting 400 positions from the city work force for the fiscal year that begins July 1, a goal he hopes to achieve mainly through a hiring freeze that would excluded only police officers, along with retirements, attrition and abolishing vacant positions.

The city is developing an early-retirement plan that would offer workers a chance to take advantage even if they are a couple of years shy of the required 20 years of service, he said.

Even with those measures, however, city budget officials think layoffs will be all but inevitable this spring.

"A lot of it depends on the rate of attrition, which is critical in the whole process," said Finance Director William R. Brown Jr. "We're going to do everything we can to achieve the numbers without layoffs."

Public school employees would be among the likely layoff

victims as the education system struggles to overcome a deficit of about $23 million in its $647 million annual budget. The deficit results largely from pay raises for teachers and aides that are higher than those budgeted and extra costs for special education.

The school system is in the midst of laying off 65 teachers, administrators and clerical workers, mostly from the central administration. Individual schools will be targeted for the next round of cuts, said Henry J. Raymond, the school system's chief financial officer.

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