O'Malley warns taxpayers meeting on impact of pay raises for city workers

Layoffs or restructuring are options, mayor says

April 19, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley warned last night that Baltimore must find up to $25 million for raises for 16,000 municipal workers or consider layoffs.

O'Malley issued the warning at his first Taxpayers Night, one of two annual public hearings that allows residents to comment on municipal spending.

For the fiscal year that begins July 1, O'Malley is proposing $1.88 billion in city spending. The 1 percent increase over last year is so slight that only three people -- all members of the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition -- commented on it.

Contracts for city workers, including police and firefighters, are scheduled to expire on June 30. Firefighters are requesting a 3 percent pay increase, and their contract traditionally sets the pattern for city workers.

O'Malley estimated that raises would cost from $10 million to $25 million. He said the city would be forced to dramatically restructure services or consider layoffs to pay for raises.

"I don't want to say layoffs, but that is always out there on the horizon," O'Malley said. "We are not out of the woods yet in reconciling this budget."

O'Malley suffered a setback two weeks ago when a Circuit Court judge ruled that pay raises for firefighters and police must be at equal percentages. O'Malley had hoped to offer police more to stem an exodus of officers to surrounding counties, where pay is higher. The city is appealing the ruling.

Notably absent from the hearing at the War Memorial Building were supporters of two agencies -- recreation and parks and the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

O'Malley's budget increases recreation funding by $616,000, the first increase in at least four years. The library will receive $200,000 in additional city funds and $3 million in more state funding, according to the budget.

Coalition members, appearing at their 11th consecutive Taxpayers Night, urged the five-member Board of Estimates, which approves city spending, to reduce the tax rate. They called the city's rate of $5.82 per $100 of assessed value -- two times higher than any other Maryland jurisdiction -- a leading contributor to the exodus of residents.

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