Mayor seeks job cuts

City budget plan calls for eliminating about 100 workers

No new tax increase

Spending on police slated to grow almost 7 percent

March 20, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The O'Malley administration presented top city officials yesterday with a recession-era budget plan for next fiscal year that calls for no new taxes and eliminates the jobs of more than 100 city workers but continues the mayor's heavy investment in fighting crime.

The $2.1 billion preliminary budget plan is not a detailed blueprint of city spending, and it would change - for the worse - should legislators in Annapolis follow through with recently considered cuts in state spending for the city.

But a year after the city raised taxes and eliminated hundreds of jobs through privatization and layoffs, the administration is still shrinking the city work force, in part because of the recession and Sept. 11-related security expenses.

"We're reeling like everybody else is, every other city is, from the unbudgeted costs of overtime, ... and we're reeling from the downturn in the income tax with the recession," Mayor Martin O'Malley said. But the city is "continuing our rebound as well as one might expect ... given the hits we've taken from the recession, the war, the federal government and the state government."

The deepest job cuts would come in the Department of Recreation and Parks, where the administration plans to contract out the jobs of 45 custodians and eliminate city landscaping work. The Law Department would also lose 11 currently filled jobs under the plan.

City unions, which angrily opposed last year's privatization of custodial and security guard jobs in the Department of Public Works, are gearing up to fight against contracting out more jobs.

"This mayor is looking for a quick fix" for the budget, said Glenard S. Middleton Sr., president of Local 44 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "It's always the easy way out for this administration, to privatize and contract out the jobs of the lowest-paid workers in the city of Baltimore."

Some members of the City Council are also expected to oppose the privatization of the custodial jobs, just as they fought last year's privatization efforts. But because the council can only make cuts to the budget, and O'Malley doesn't need the council to pass any tax increases this year, council members will have little leverage.

The budget outlook is less bleak than last year's, when the city eliminated hundreds more jobs, for two major reasons. First, a severe hiring freeze imposed last fall means the work force has shrunk through attrition, so fewer workers will have to be laid off. Second, the budget, which starts July 1, will be the first full fiscal year under the higher income tax approved last year.

The general operating fund that supports most of the city's core services - including police, fire, trash collection and recreation and parks - is slated to grow 5.3 percent, to $985 million.

Spending on the Police Department, which clearly remains the mayor's top priority, is expected to grow by 6.9 percent, to $243.6 million. All city spending combined is expected to grow by 0.8 percent, to $2.1 billion.

"I think it's a decent budget," said Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., a Southeast Baltimore Democrat who heads the council's budget committee and attended yesterday's briefing. "The only thing that was still a little disturbing [is] I don't think anybody wants to see anyone lose their job."

The budget blueprint doesn't call for the kind of deep cuts that alarmed City Council members and some in the public last year, like the threatened closings of recreation centers and elimination of the "blue bag" recycling program, neither of which came to pass.

O'Malley said yesterday that parks personnel initially recommended recreation center closings but that he and budget officials told them to "go back and sharpen their pencils." No centers will be closed, he said.

But the budget might well get tighter, as legislators in Annapolis consider spending cuts that would affect the city. That includes a cut of up to $4 million in direct state aid to the city, part of a state "disparity grants" program that aids poorer jurisdictions.

"We still have a lot of work to go and a bunch of our budget really depends on the state," O'Malley said. "We've still got a $4 million hole to make up."

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