Six to fix for next mayor

A change in Baltimore's leadership must herald a change in direction. The city cannot afford four more years of missed opportunities, especially in these key areas:

August 29, 1999

Finances

Projected shortfalls make cutting waste, seeking outside aid essential.

IT'S THE unspoken issue of the mayoral campaign. Baltimore's taxes don't produce enough revenue to pay for the delivery of services to city residents. How can the new mayor find more money for schools, police and housing?

Over the next four years, city leaders must come up with an extra $153 million just for existing services. Closing this gap will be a post-election priority.

Reorganizing government departments is vital, but politically difficult. It involves layoffs and letting vacancies go unfilled, perhaps permanently. It means tough decisions on which city activities are curtailed or delivered in another, less expensive way. It could involve privatization.

Baltimore's next mayor must find ways to reduce the high cost of benefits for city workers and retirees. The city's bill for prescription drugs alone comes to $56 million -- and is rapidly rising.

The biggest savings, though, involve help from Annapolis. Baltimore's troubled courts and prosecutor's office have been underfunded by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. This cannot continue.

It will take millions to help fix what is wrong, millions the city does not have. Running the courts and prosecutor's office should be a state responsibility. Relieving Baltimore of these expenses would save $20 million a year -- and go a long way toward closing the revenue gap.

But judges and state's attorneys in other jurisdictions strongly object. They don't want to lose their independence. An exception must be made for Baltimore, though, given its extraordinary criminal caseload and problems.

It will be up to the next mayor to quickly convince the governor and key lawmakers that a state takeover of these city functions is imperative. The trade-off might be a commitment to reduce other city expenses through reorganization. That could be a winning deal for both sides.

Crime

Citizens need to know that lawlessness will not be tolerated.

BALTIMORE needs a hands-on crime-fighter as mayor -- not a micromanager of professional law enforcers but a task master who inspires citizens to stop tolerating lawlessness.

Official statistics suggest crime is at its lowest point in a decade. But even though homicides have fallen by nearly 19 percent so far this year -- after exceeding 300 for nine consecutive years -- Baltimore remains among the nation's most lethal cities. Unless that changes, Baltimore will continue to find it difficult, if not impossible, to recruit new businesses, residents and big conventions.

Whether the next mayor favors "community policing" or "zero tolerance" -- as the leading Democratic candidates do -- he or she must also crack down on nuisance crimes. The city must declare war on panhandling, prostitution, littering, loud music and honking horns at all hours of the day and night. Baltimoreans pay so much in taxes that their complaints about such incidents ought to produce a police response that is swift and decisive. If New York has found a way to address such quality of life problems, why can't Baltimore?

City Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier is likely to be replaced after the election. But the next mayor would be irresponsible to throw out all the reforms Mr. Frazier has begun. Closing down the controversial Police Athletic League centers -- before we have alternatives -- would be a disaster. Someone has to show children in high-risk neighborhoods that an alternative exists to life on the streets.

Borrowing a page from successes in New York and Chicago, Mr. Frazier also introduced up-to-date and accurate information-gathering systems. Computerized snapshots of various areas of the city are now used to detect patterns of lawlessness. In the future, Baltimore should refine computerized mapping, which has helped reduce crime.

The next mayor should not try to run the Police Department. The mayor's job is to set policy and priorities; the commissioner's is to implement them.

Government and Services

Bloated bureaucracies must go; volunteers, private groups can help bridge the gap.

PAINFUL fiscal choices can no longer be postponed in Baltimore.

The new mayor will have to examine municipal services and tax revenues, which are out of balance after decades of population decline.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke seemed determined to do something about that at the beginning of his second term in 1991. But he never got around to a systematic reorganization of the city's bureaucracy. Timid recommendations by a charter revision commission in 1994 further lessened pressure on the mayor to attempt thorough governmental restructuring.

The upshot is that the biggest departmental change during the 12 Schmoke years has affected public works. Director George G. Balog gobbled up so many functions -- from transportation to park maintenance -- that critics say he effectively became city manager.

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