Schmoke imposes freeze in city government hiring Mayor hopes to avoid budget deficit, layoffs

October 22, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke imposed a hiring freeze on city government yesterday, hoping to fend off a projected $24.4 million budget deficit next year.

Schmoke will formally announce the hiring freeze this morning, but he told a group of residents meeting last night at Roland Park Elementary School that he took the step in hopes of avoiding layoffs of municipal employees or severe cuts in city services.

"If we want to maintain our services, we have to tighten our belts," the mayor said.

Since voters elected Schmoke in 1987, Baltimore has avoided a budget deficit, despite the 1990 recession that pushed Philadelphia and Washington to the brink of bankruptcy.

Schmoke has cut 3,355 jobs over the past decade, many through attrition and buyout programs. Baltimore has 26,055 employees.

The freeze is being imposed because of a steady exodus of residents and businesses. The city loses an estimated 1,000 people a month, stagnating its tax base.

The Finance Department pro- jected recently that city revenues would increase about 1 percent a year, while costs to provide services would grow 2 percent to 4 percent.

The projected deficit -- $24.4 million -- would occur in fiscal year 2000, which begins July 1. The deficit could swell to $139.6 million by 2002.

"Although the state is going through a period of very strong economic growth, the city's resources -- particularly property taxes and income taxes -- are growing at a much slower pace," Schmoke said.

In July, Vera Hall, Schmoke's former liaison to the City Council, warned of the impending budget deficit in a report. Hall criticized the council for adopting a 3-cent tax cut in the final days of last year's budget deliberations.

Council members have been critical of the administration, which last week unveiled a new $1 million Environmental Control Board to crack down on nuisance crimes.

"They never look at the spending end of it," said Councilman Martin O'Malley, chairman of the finance and taxation committee. "We're not allowed to talk about that."

Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector agreed.

"I don't see the correlation between the hiring freeze and structural deficit," said Spector, the longest serving council member. "The mayor is trying to address the fact that we have too many employees in Baltimore City."

The freeze will not affect public safety positions such as police and firefighters, Schmoke said.

Three years ago, the city began a pension incentive that placed additional funds in an investment nest egg for police and firefighters able to retire. The plan will expire next summer and is expected to result in the retirements of possibly hundreds of officers and firefighters. Those positions will be replaced, Schmoke said.

"The essentials services will get done," he said. "But we have to do some belt-tightening."

Pub Date: 10/22/98

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