Officials resisting fire station closings

Council seeks hearings to keep seven sites open

May 16, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

In the first serious City Council challenge to Mayor Martin O'Malley, legislation was introduced last night to require public hearings before closing fire stations.

The measure, introduced by East Baltimore Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young, gained eight co-sponsors a week after O'Malley announced his plans to close seven fire stations as part of his $1.9 billion budget.

O'Malley has said the closings would save $4 million to $5 million, money that could be used to put four to six more ambulances on the streets. Critics on the council said last night that the price might be too high.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday incorrectly reported the number of Baltimore City Council members supporting a bill to require public hearings before closing city fire stations.
In fact, 14 of the council's 19 members support the proposal, five more than reported. One of the supporters, City Councilwoman Lois Garey, a Democrat from Southeast Baltimore's 1st District, was incorrectly reported as having left her name off the legislation.
The Sun regrets the error.

"We cannot save money on the backs of our citizens," East Baltimore Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch said. "We need to find the money somewhere else."

Last week, the council unanimously supported O'Malley's nomination of Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris. Although the sponsors of the firehouse bill are one vote shy of the 10-member majority needed to pass it, council members appeared serious about challenging the mayor's plan.

"The unions should have had some input," said Southwest Baltimore Councilman Edward L. Reisinger, a bill co-sponsor. "They're the ones out on the street."

Dixon defends mayor

Council President Sheila Dixon defended the mayor's proposal, saying some fire stations around the city have been closing daily on a rotating basis to save money, a process O'Malley referred to as "Russian roulette."

"From day to day, fire stations are closed," Dixon said. "There is nobody there from day to day."

Southeast Baltimore Councilwoman Lois A. Garey kept her name off the bill, noting that with a lean city budget, difficult spending choices will have to be made.

"I don't like closing fire stations," Garey said. "But I also know that we do not have enough emergency medical services units."

The council set a public hearing on the bill for Wednesday, May 24 at 5 p.m. The meeting will be televised on the city cable station, Channel 21.

Dirt bikes discussed

In other action, West Baltimore Councilwoman Catherine E. Pugh introduced a bill that would ban the use of dirt bikes in the city. Pugh, elected in November, said that recently she was almost struck by six motorcyclists roaring through her neighborhood.

Two city men were killed on May 4 when the dirt bike they were riding slammed into the back of a 10,000-pound delivery truck. The deaths were the latest in a string of fatal accidents involving off-road vehicles on city streets.

The dirt bike problem has frustrated police because a departmental safety policy prohibits officers from chasing operators of thousands of the unregistered vehicles. Police said groups of men who ride dirt bikes, sometimes called "rough riders," often travel in packs of 20 or more. In addition to last week's victims, there have been at least eight other deaths involving dirt bikes since 1997.

Pugh's measure would ban the bikes, allow police to confiscate them and fine violators up to $1,000.

"This takes dirt bikes off the street completely," Pugh said.

Project funding

As part of the annual budget process, the council also proposed borrowing $88.5 million for projects that would have to be approved by voters in November.

Among the projects are $3 million for the Baltimore Zoo, $7.5 million for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, $3 million for Parks and Recreation, $2.5 million for the Maryland Science Center, $2 million for the Living Classrooms and $1 million for the National Aquarium.

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