Dixon report defines goals

Lengthy agenda offers suggestions for her 10 months in office

January 30, 2007|By John Fritze | John Fritze,Sun reporter

Though the report carries few specifics — Offering the most insight yet into how she intends to lead Baltimore, Mayor Sheila Dixon released a lengthy report yesterday that includes more than 245 recommendations for her administration, from creating a Cabinet-level position to oversee education to studying once-a-week trash collection in some neighborhoods.

Though the report carries few specifics - and many of its proposals are ideas warmed over from the previous mayor, Martin O'Malley - the 92-page document does include dozens of new ideas, sets a deadline to accomplish the goals and offers some detail to complement the otherwise broad themes that have defined her agenda so far.

Dixon rose from City Council president to become the city's 48th mayor this month when O'Malley became governor. She is seeking a full, four-year term in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, and her ability to woo voters will hinge largely on how much of an agenda she can push forward in her shortened - and politically charged - term.

"It's a good base," Dixon said of the report, which was crafted by her 47-member transition team for her consideration.

Some proposals, such as to continue Artscape, an annual arts festival, and to expand the water taxi service in the Inner Harbor, are neither new nor divisive. Others, such as raising assessments on commercial property, forcing landlords to remove the household items they place on sidewalks after evictions, and reducing police overtime are sure to spark controversy if tried.

Police overtime has been a recurring issue for years. The Police Department has often exceeded its overtime budget many times over, an expense some say is needed to have the flexibility to step up patrols in high-crime areas - especially given a current shortage of officers. Critics say the department should do a better job planning its overtime. So far this fiscal year, the department has spent $21 million on overtime, significantly more than the $8.7 million budgeted to last through June.

"They don't have a blank check," Dixon said. "We need to put an emphasis on other areas to eliminate the crime, versus just the police officers being paid overtime. There's got to be a balance."

Buried in the report is a recommendation to "revamp Baltimore's Recycling Program," which would include a study to determine whether the city's twice-a-week trash collection should continue in every neighborhood. The proposal, which gives a nine-month deadline, suggests that a plan be prepared to shift some residents to once-a-week pickup in exchange for more frequent recycling service.

"It might be in certain areas," said Dixon, who has made improved cleanup of litter a centerpiece of her administration. "Maybe there is an incentive where if we can create environments for one-day pickup and recycling more aggressively [we can then] focus on more of our troubled areas and education."

Twice-a-week collection, which is relatively unusual for a city of Baltimore's size, is required by city code. The City Council would be required to approve a change to that code. Dixon has said she will develop a plan to deal with garbage and litter in coming months and that the plan would provide more specifics about collection.

Allen W. Hicks of the Hampden Community Council warned that reducing the frequency of trash pickup could have a major effect on neighborhoods like his.

"We have so much trash now. Cutting back on city services, especially when we talk about grime or ambience, is not the direction they should go," said Hicks, who agreed that the city's recycling program needs an overhaul. "Good intentions, but my question would be: Is this just a labor-saving method, or do we want to make our city first-class in doing trash pickup?"

For weeks, Dixon pointed to the transition report when asked about her specific goals for the next 10 months. But yesterday, as the report was unveiled at an informal lunch meeting of the City Council, the mayor suggested she might not follow all of its recommendations, but will instead use the document as a blueprint. Though she said some initiatives might be unveiled in her State of the City address next week, she has been cagey when asked when she will reveal a specific agenda.

Still, the report carries several straightforward proposals, such as expanding O'Malley's CitiStat program, conducting an annual "customer satisfaction survey" of community organizations, creating an advisory committee to provide feedback on transportation policies, developing a land bank authority to sell vacant homes owned by the city, and giving the city's economic development agency, the Baltimore Development Corp., more authority.

Asked to identify an item she is committed to pursuing, Dixon pointed to a new deputy-mayor-level position "for education partnerships" as a top priority. The position would act as a liaison among City Hall, the city school system and local universities.

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