City taxpayers protest cuts in parks budget

Residents fill council chambers to capacity

June 04, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

A capacity crowd of Baltimore residents filled the balcony of City Council chambers yesterday to protest a proposed $2.9 million cut for the parks and recreation department.

Over three years, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has cut $15 million from the department's budget, resulting in the closing of 18 recreation centers. At the same time, the city has started 27 Police Athletic League centers.

Douglas B. Brady Jr., who retired three years ago after working 34 years for parks and recreation, complained that the PAL centers serve only those age 7 to 15. The proposed recreation cuts will affect senior citizens and tiny tots, Brady said.

"You have got to stop the destruction of our recreation department," Brady said to applause from residents.

Brady's comments came during the council's annual Taxpayers' Night, when residents get to comment on the municipal budget. Baltimore faces a budget deficit of $153 million in the next four years, according to city finance officials. Parks and recreation has taken the brunt of cuts.

Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, pledged to try to make up the recreation reduction by eliminating money from another area in the budget. The city council must adopt a budget by July 1.

"We have a number of problems facing the council and we have to make some tough decisions," D'Adamo said. "This body is not happy with the [recreation cuts] and we are trying to find ways to raise the revenue."

On other issues, A. Robert Kaufman, Democratic mayoral candidate and a founder of the City Wide Coalition, again asked the council to fund an insurance cooperative that he believes can save city residents up to $300 a year for auto and home insurance. City leaders, including Schmoke, have balked at the idea, saying that the city should not be in the insurance business.

Members of the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition expressed concern over the rising costs of prescription drugs for municipal employees. The annual prescription cost for city retirees and workers has risen to $56.3 million, almost double the $29.8 million five years ago.

The coalition encouraged the city to increase the co-pay rate for municipal employees and retirees to $10, what some private companies charge. The co-pay is expected to rise to $5 next year. Each $1 extra in co-pay would save the city $1 million, the coalition said.

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