City To Feel Budget Pain

Dixon Plans Layoffs, May Reduce Services As Md. Approves Cuts

August 27, 2009|By Annie Linskey and Laura Smitherman | Annie Linskey and Laura Smitherman,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

Mayor Sheila Dixon said Wednesday that Baltimore residents might see a "change in services" and city workers will face furloughs and layoffs to close a $60 million spending gap opened by the most recent state aid cuts and slumping tax revenues.

"We are looking at a number of areas," Dixon said. "There will be layoffs."

The city laid off more than 150 workers in June when it adopted its $2.3 billion budget.

City Council members said yesterday that they would take voluntary furlough days to show solidarity with city workers.

"Right now, we are in this economic crisis," said Councilman Bernard "Jack" Young. "We can't expect people to take furloughs and we are not included."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's editions incorrectly stated how many workers at the state Department of Transportation will be laid off; it is 26. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

One money-saving option under consideration is curtailing or reducing the city's bulk trash pickup program, according to a City Hall official not authorized to speak about budget matters. The current bulk pickup service, which allows residents to call to have three bulk items hauled away each month, costs about $1 million.

State officials in Annapolis are cutting by $35 million the money that Baltimore had been expecting, part of $211 million in reduced aid to local governments.

City finance officials have also revised Baltimore's revenue projections downward by about $25 million.

Dixon said she is still "digesting" news of state budget reductions approved Wednesday by Maryland's Board of Public Works, and will not announce the extent of layoffs or other budget measures until she meets with City Council members and union officials. Some of those meetings are set for today and Friday.

The Board of Public Works approved Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to cut Maryland's $13 billion budget by $454 million to ensure that it remains in balance as tax collections slide. The proposal includes furloughs and layoffs for state workers as well as reductions in aid for Baltimore and the 23 counties.

Dozens of state employees will be laid off with the closure of a psychiatric unit at the Upper Shore Community Mental Health Center in Chestertown. Maryland Health Secretary John M. Colmers said the move fits in with the state's larger goal of shifting care to private institutions. More layoffs would come from shutting down two wards at Spring Grove Hospital in Catonsville.

"This is not an easy time," Colmers said. "I can't sugarcoat it."

Layoffs of state employees are spread among other agencies, including 44 workers at the Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile, Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals said in a letter to judicial branch employees that they would be subject to cutbacks "similar and consistent" to those faced by executive branch employees who are facing pay cuts through furloughs and the closure of government offices.

The state's university system also is crafting a plan to require that employees take unpaid days off. Chancellor William E. Kirwan, in an e-mail letter to his campuses on Wednesday, said state budget cuts would force reductions in financial aid, maintenance budgets and student services. Kirwan said he expects that the university system will implement a tiered furlough plan and other salary adjustments.

Other details of state budget cuts emerged yesterday, including a $7.5 million reduction in state funding for cancer research at the University of Maryland and the John Hopkins University, and a more than $4 million cut to cancer screening for low-income residents and to smoking- prevention programs.

Bonita Pennino, a government relations director for the American Cancer Society, said she expects smoking rates and deaths from cancer to increase as a result. "We recognize the governor was in a box, given the state of the economy," she said. "But this action is penny-wise and pound-foolish."

Local governments are grappling with the expected loss of state money for road maintenance, health care, community colleges and other needs. In Baltimore, Dixon said the pain of those cuts will be felt across all city agencies.

The Baltimore budget passed in June included 153 layoffs, eliminated hundreds of vacant positions, shut two Police Athletic League centers and a recreation center, reduced trash pickup to once a week, shortened library, pool and rec center hours, and made steep reductions in public safety overtime.

The plan included deep reductions to Fire Department overtime, and up to four fire companies are closed on any particular shift. Union officials expressed concerns that further budget cuts would mean that more fire companies would be closed each day.

"No matter how you characterize it, you are playing with fire," warned Capt. Stephan Fugate, the head of the fire officers' union. "It is inevitable if we continue as we are that there is going to be a tragedy."

Fugate said he will propose to his members giving up four to six vacation days to solve the department's manpower shortages. Fire Chief Jim Clack said he plans to meet with Dixon on Friday.

Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the department is already "at bare bones" and that there have been "no discussions about furloughs or layoffs for police."

Baltimore Sun reporter Childs Walker contributed to this article.

Baltimore budget woes

$60 million: Current city shortfall

$35 million: From state aid reduction

$25 million: From lower tax and other revenues

$2.3 billion: Overall city budget

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