Baltimore residents protest planned cuts for recreation

Forum also features call for 10-cent tax decrease

April 21, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The proposed $1.8 billion Baltimore 2000 budget came to life yesterday as residents called for a 10-cent property tax cut and protested recreation cuts and a failure to increase library funding.

At the Board of Estimates' annual Taxpayers Night, faces that have become familiar to city officials returned to complain about what they called misplaced priorities.

The biggest hue and cry came from residents who use recreation centers. During the past three years, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has cut recreation funding while turning over some of its duties to Police Athletic League centers. Residents such as Sandra Kay Biles of West Baltimore want to know why.

"We need the Police Department of Baltimore City concentrating on policing and let the Department of Recreation and Parks continue to do [its] job with the children," Biles said to applause from about 200 residents.

What would be the final budget of Schmoke's 12-year tenure -- he is not seeking re-election -- calls for reducing parks and recreation funding by $3 million, mostly in job cuts. During the past three years, the funding has dropped by $15 million.

"We need to invest in the future of our city -- our children," said Thomas R. Johnson, an Irvington father of three. "If we pay the money now, we won't need more judges and cameras on every corner."

The proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 could be one of the city's leanest. The mayor proposes eliminating 600 municipal posts through attrition to avoid a budget deficit next year. Property tax collections in Baltimore have remained stagnant since 1993 because of the continued loss of population.

Ronald Owens, president of the Friends of Enoch Pratt Free Library, said his organization is feeling the pinch. Library funding will increase $300,000 in the proposed budget, about $1.1 million shy of needs, Owens said. Freezes in hiring and cuts in maintenance and supplies are likely, Owens said.

The Baltimore Homeowners Coalition called on officials to cut the property tax rate by 10 cents. Baltimore has the highest property tax in the state at $5.82 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Some cuts suggested by the citizens group include reducing "extraordinarily generous" health benefits to retired municipal employees, selling excess and unused city real estate, and allowing private companies to bid on municipal services.

Karen Footner, secretary of the group, said Indianapolis saves about $200 million annually by allowing private companies to compete.

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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