Library funding threatened Budget woes: Cuts at the Pratt will be deep unless the city finds more money.

April 01, 1996

APROPOSED CUT OF $3.5 million in funds for the Pratt Library was called a "typical budget exercise" by a spokesman for Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The mayor routinely changes spending recommendations during the budget process. For instance, Mr. Schmoke last year found an extra $1.2 million above what was budgeted for the Pratt after the city sold the bankrupt Harrison's Pier 5 Hotel. So it is possible the Pratt will get more than the mayor's current proposal.

However, that austere $13.2 million proposal means the library must expect to have less city funding than last year, even if the final reduction is smaller than now proposed. That means the worst cannot be ruled out, including closing some branches.

What a blow that would be for a town that calls itself "the city that reads." But it is just one more item on the growing list of areas where the city should spend more money but because of its fiscal situation must spend less.

City officials blame the continued decline of property and income tax collections in Baltimore and also the gradual repeal of the beverage container tax, which will be completely eliminated next year.

They should also blame the politics that shrank revenues by reducing the property tax three times since 1989 when the city could least afford it. The tax breaks were little felt by home owners. Each saved the owner of a $100,000 house only about $20 a year, but combined the tax cuts have cost the city about $12 million in revenue. Also blame the politics last year that led to a bigger pay raise for teachers than the city could afford. The 5 percent raise, instead of the 2 percent proposed by the school system, is costing the city an extra $8 million.

It is hard to feel sorry for people who give away money they don't have to give. And that is what Baltimore has been doing. Now adequate funding not just for the Pratt Library, but the schools and essential services such as fire protection are threatened. The Pratt's new three-year strategic plan places greater emphasis on fund-raising. But, unfortunately, more immediate solutions must come from City Hall.

Pub Date: 4/01/96

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