Baltimore laying off 52 parks workers

Cuts first step toward trimming 4-year deficit

June 08, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The first wave of layoffs has hit the city's Department of Parks and Recreation, where 52 workers ranging from janitors to administrators were given two weeks' notice Friday.

The layoffs are the first in the city's plans to eliminate 575 positions to break even in next year's $1.8 billion budget. About 260 of the positions have been eliminated through retirements or voluntary departures, city budget officials said. But that leaves 315 more slots that need to be cut before the city budget is adopted by July 1.

Baltimore faces $153 million in budget deficits over the next four years. The funds needed to provide city services exceed the income the city earns from its property taxes, budget officials say.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke had hoped to enact the cuts without resorting to layoffs, but city officials said yesterday that the recreation and park layoffs could be the first of many as the city struggles to get to the 315 mark over the next two weeks.

"There are 315 classified positions, so there will be more [layoffs]," said city Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher. "But the budget isn't over until it's over."

Those receiving pink slips Friday included 45 custodians, five day care workers and two administrators. A spokeswoman for the department said she could not provide the names of the affected employees. Parks and Recreation Director Thomas Overton was unavailable for coment, she said.

Last week, during a budget hearing for citizens, residents complained about cuts to the city recreation department. During the past three years, the city has closed 18 recreation centers and cut $15 million from the budget. In the current budget, $2.9 million will be slashed from the $20 million department budget.

Schmoke opened 27 Police Athletic League centers, which address the recreation needs of at-risk youth ages 7 to 15. Critics of the plan, however, say the move fails to take into account 7,200 tots and seniors who also use city recreation facilities.

"This is a home away from home for our children," said Georgine Edgerton, a volunteer at Kahill Recreation Center in Walbrook. "We keep cutting recreation and parks and open more prisons."

Council members last week pledged to try to restore the $2.9 million in current cuts before the July 1 budget deadline. If the 19-member panel is successful, Gallagher said the 52 layoffs might be averted.

Additional layoffs will have to be announced by mid-month to give workers proper two weeks' notice, Gallagher said.

Pub Date: 6/08/99

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