City downsizing plan worked Next step: Make sure vacated slots are eliminated to achieve real savings.

August 17, 1996

COUNCIL PRESIDENT Lawrence A. Bell III and Third District (( Councilman Martin O'Malley deserve credit for talking Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke into accepting their idea to accelerate an early retirement incentive program. The plan has worked. More than 900 city employees took advantage of a 5 percent benefits bonus by retiring by July 31. Those retirements mean Baltimore can avoid immediate layoffs. But more must be done to ensure a permanent downsizing.

The bonus pension benefits were so lucrative that even the head of the city retirement systems, Ernest J. Glinka, decided to retire. So did other key personnel such as purchasing department head Ella H. Pierce. Some of those jobs will have to be filled, although with less-senior persons earning smaller salaries. And some departments may have to hire their former bosses as consultants to ensure a smoother transition, but the mayor has said none of those contracts will be for longer than 90 days.

Mr. Schmoke and Mr. Bell collaborated like no other mayor and council president in recent years to write this year's budget. They must keep up that relationship if Baltimore is to achieve all the savings possible from this workforce reduction. Now that they know the number of early retirements and where they have occurred, they must evaluate affected agencies to determine which jobs the city can do without. They must restructure departments that can operate with even fewer workers.

Mr. Bell wants to form two task forces of business and community leaders; one to look at ways to restructure city government and the other to look at possible revenue alternatives. Getting that type of public input is a good way to keep this ball rolling. It's the only way to gain public acceptance of controversial ideas, such as closing library branches or ending tax exemptions for special interests. Such suggestions shouldn't sprung on the public in a budget crisis situation.

There is reason to be optimistic about Baltimore. Positive developments are occurring downtown, neighborhood revitalization holds promise, the schools -- sooner or later -- will undergo dramatic change. City government must change, too, so that as it becomes smaller it becomes efficient. That could be the legacy of the employee buyout.

Pub Date: 8/17/96

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