City officials restored money for a child-care program in next year's proposed city budget yesterday, just in time for a public hearing that drew dozens of parents and disabled children to City Hall to protest its anticipated demise.
"Taxpayer's Night" opened with an announcement that the program, which serves 115 children, would not be eliminated in fiscal 2003, which begins July 1. Parents broke into applause, but some found it hard to believe the news delivered by Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr., the Southeast Baltimore Democrat who heads the Budget and Appropriations Committee.
"I really, truly hope that what you're saying is the God's honest truth," Kaaren Bowen of West Baltimore told the City Council. Bowen, 59, has four disabled grandchildren in the program.
Other speakers, though, had concerns to voice on the proposed $2.1 billion spending plan that eliminates 466 jobs - all but 147 of them vacant - and boosts police spending by $14.7 million.
Union officials and workers complained about the privatization of Recreation and Parks Department custodial services, which will eliminate 41 jobs and save $530,000 annually.
"I have four kids and a wife. I provide for my family," said Ernie Jones, 36, a custodian from East Baltimore.
Glenard S. Middleton Sr., president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 44, criticized Mayor Martin O'Malley and the council for spending millions on police overtime while cutting custodial jobs.
"They found $9 million to pay overtime to protect us from terrorists who never showed up in the city of Baltimore," he said.
O'Malley testified last month before a Senate committee that the city had spent about $6.5 million on police overtime and other antiterrorist measures since Sept. 11.
The O'Malley administration has assured the council that the recreation and parks workers will be offered other city positions or job training, D'Adamo said. He also said O'Malley is seeking federal funds to reimburse the city for security expenses related to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
The budget plan originally called for the elimination of the recreation department's School Age Child Care Program, which costs $480,000 a year. The city's share is supposed to be $130,000, with tuition making up the rest. But the city ends up paying closer to $200,000 because attendance has been poor and parents haven't paid, city budget officials have said.