Panel points to waste, inefficiencies in analysis of Baltimore government

150-member group picked by mayor suggests privatized trash collection, criticizes Department of Housing and Community Development

March 22, 2010|By Julie Scharper | | Baltimore Sun reporter

Baltimore should privatize trash collection, cease sending fire trucks and engines to medical calls and consider extracting property taxes from nonprofits, such as hospitals and schools, according to a comprehensive analysis of city government presented today to Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake.

The report, prepared by a 150-member volunteer transition committee, is particularly critical of the Department of Housing and Community Development — which "appears to lack a clear and coherent vision for revitalizing ... neighborhoods," and calls for an audit and management review of the Recreation and Parks Department.

The members of the transition team, who were appointed by Rawlings-Blake shortly before she took office Feb. 4, spent weeks meeting with agency heads and employees to draft their recommendations.

Their report exposes numerous examples of waste and inefficiency in government, citing one city-owned building shared by four government-sponsored programs, each of which uses a different cleaning service.

The city could save money through outsourcing of garbage collection and recycling to private contractors, the team suggests. And it should study the economic ramifications of the take-home vehicles system, according to the report.

The team urges the city to assess how best to use its 10 million square feet of city-owned office and industrial space, which are spread across 527 separate facilities. It says the city should consider relocating some agencies — for example, the Law Department is in the basement of City Hall, where employees and important documents are plagued by "flooding, mold, vermin, odors and temperature issues."

Baltimore loses federal funds because the Head Start program, which is managed by the Housing Department, is not in compliance with federal regulations, according to the report. The city should consider transferring control of the program to an agency "that is more closely allied with educational outcomes," the transition committee wrote.

Recreation centers should also be moved into public schools to make them "hubs for community activities," the report suggests.

The city must expeditiously draft a program "to manage and dispose" of the 30,0000 vacant properties scattered throughout the city and to streamline the management of the 10,000 vacant properties owned by the city into one agency, according to the report. A proposal to create a land bank, a key initiative of former Mayor Sheila Dixon, was recently yanked by Rawlings-Blake's administration.

The report calls on the Housing Department to take "a more proactive approach to subsidizing development projects" since the agency "is often the last actor to commit public subsidies to a development project, resulting in significant delays."

It also suggests numerous ways for the city — which is grappling with a $121 million deficit — to raise revenue, including imposing a tax on bottles and other containers, raising hotel taxes and levying property taxes on nonprofits.

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