Minor cuts planned for city budget, but not at expense of safety

March 27, 2002|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

The scene is familiar whenever the O'Malley administration prepares each department's budget for the next year: Public safety gets more money, others get less.

The difference is that this year, because of last year's 20 percent local income tax increase, the city isn't on the verge of hundreds of layoffs to balance the budget.

Instead, Mayor Martin O'Malley's preliminary $2.1 billion budget plan for next fiscal year, which begins July 1, is being stitched together with a series of minor yet sometimes painful cuts.

Consider the Department of Recreation and Parks, which presented hundreds of thousands of dollars in recommended reductions yesterday to the Board of Estimates. It proposed contracting out the work of more than 40 custodians, a move opposed by city worker unions; eliminating the jobs of 11 more workers who help landscape medians and parks; and halting a program that serves about 110 children.

In each case, Parks Director Marvin F. Billups Jr. said he hopes that with private contracts, partnerships with companies and diligent efforts to find alternatives for people affected by cuts, the department can make up for lost funding.

The cuts are the continuation of a trend in a government that has shrunk along with the size of its population for decades. The exception to the trend is in the area of public safety, in which O'Malley continues to invest heavily.

The Police Department's general fund budget, where most of its money is spent, is slated to climb by $15.7 million, or 6.9 percent, over last year's spending plan.

O'Malley has made clear since the start of his 1999 mayoral campaign that fighting crime would be his top priority, and he has excluded the police and fire departments from the rigorous budget constraints that he has imposed on other city departments.

City agencies will continue presenting their preliminary budget plans this week, as the Board of Estimates prepares to deliver a more detailed budget to the City Council in May.

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