Schmoke's surplus Wish list: One-time spending should address most pressing city needs.

March 06, 1998

FOR A CHANGE, BALTIMORE will have extra money to spend when the current fiscal year ends, thanks to the region's robust economy. Revenue has increased almost across the board, with income-tax collections leading the way with a $10 million boost. In addition, pension fund investments are expected to bring in a $20 million windfall.

Because much of this money is tied to the ups and downs of the stock market, prudence dictates that city officials not depend on it for recurring budget items. They should make one-time investments in city infrastructure and programs that would benefit Baltimoreans now.

City schools have too many pressing needs. Education leaders seek an additional $14 million, including funds for computers in classrooms. Any extra revenue ought to be stretched to help buy phonics-based reading material and develop more after-school and summer programs.

Recreation and parks, hit hard by budget cuts, ought to be near the top of any list for one-time spending to buy equipment and repair city rec centers. The master plan for renovating Druid Hill Park could be accelerated, too.

At the Enoch Pratt Free Library, surplus revenue could pay for badly needed books and materials for its collection, especially computer software, as the Pratt tries to reach out to more people through technology.

A number of arts and cultural groups had their city funding reduced last year. Temporary restoration may be in order to tide them over until the groups find alternative funding sources.

The city is anticipating a net total of $18.3 million in extra income. But it may have to divert some of it to retrofit the Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems Co. (BRESCO) waste-to-energy plant to meet new federal pollution standards. Deficits of $12.8 million run up by city departments also must be paid. Still, a hefty amount of change will be left to bolster some of the city's most crucial programs.

With Baltimore finance officers predicting budget shortfalls of $36.4 million in fiscal 1999, $65.7 million in 2000 and $92 million in 2001, the current year's surplus should not be used to pay for recurring costs. And with so many critical needs, it's important that Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke select these one-time expenditures carefully.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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