The Recreation and Parks Department, which a 150-member citizen panel recently described as "crippled and without direction," would lose nearly a third of its $31 million budget. Twenty-nine of the city's 55 recreation centers would be closed, and more than 161 jobs would be eliminated. Free recreation programs for seniors would cease, swimming and splash pools would close, and the pool season would be cut to five weeks.
More than 1,400 children would be dropped from summer programs if the rec centers were closed, interim parks director Dwayne B. Thomas said.
The Community Development office of the Housing and Community Development department would be dissolved as part of nearly $50 million in trims to the agency's budget. A transition report prepared by the citizen panel criticized the housing department as lacking "a clear and coherent vision for revitalizing ... neighborhoods."
Redevelopment projects would be spearheaded by the Planning Department and the mayor's Office of Neighborhoods under the spending plan.
Funding to the Enoch Pratt Free Library is largely untouched. Library use has increased 20 percent in the past year and unemployed people in particular are tapping the library's resources, said Kleine, the budget director.
This year marks the first time the city has used an "outcome-based" budget process that assigns funding in accordance with the city's goals and program success. Kleine said the system is an improvement on traditional budgeting procedures, which levy across-the-board cuts regardless of a department's performance.
"As much as possible, we don't want to just thin the soup," said Kleine. "We're trying to get away from agency silos and focus on what are the city's objectives."
Martire, of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability, praised the system for granting officials the flexibility to fund deserving programs. But it drew ire from some agencies, particularly the Police Department, which largely withdrew from talks with the administration as the spending plan was being drafted.
"Outcome Budgeting is flawed as applied to law enforcement agencies and does not serve the Public Safety mission of the BPD," police leaders wrote in a memo to Rawlings-Blake as she took office last month. "The Commissioner opposes the implementation of Outcome Budgeting for the BPD as a labor intensive process that leads to arbitrary results."
This year's spending plan is further complicated by the mayoral transition. Mayor Sheila Dixon resigned as part of a plea deal in a criminal case after the budget process was already well under way.
Rawlings-Blake inherits a city burdened by the deepest deficit in recent memory. Four years ago, the city enjoyed a $61 million surplus. The city anticipates a shortfall of as much as $50 million in the current budget year, in addition to the $121 million deficit projected for next year.
Sharp drops in state aid, as well as declining income and housing sale taxes, have drained the budget while pension and health care costs have ballooned.
Baltimore is not alone; cities and states across the country are troubled by budget shortfalls for much the same reasons, said Chris Hoehne, director of research for the National League of Cities.
Cities are expected to suffer a combined fiscal shortfall of as much as $83 billion between 2010 and 2012, he said.
Baltimore will be forced to pay as much as $65 million more if changes are not made to the fire and police pensions by the start of the fiscal year July 1. The preliminary budget assumes that the problem will be rectified.
The city hopes to save as much as $35 million through concessions from labor groups, such as continued furloughs, salary freezes and requiring employees to contribute 10 percent of the cost of prescription drug premiums.
Rawlings-Blake has promised to not increase property taxes but is considering taxing nonprofits, which are exempt from property taxes, raising taxes on energy and telecommunications and imposing a fee on containers, such as water and soda bottles.
Councilman James B. Kraft said the fees would spread the burden to businesses and nonprofits, sparing residents from an undue share. "You can't just keep asking the same people to foot the bill," he said.
Police, fire, health, parks and library officials are due to appear today before the Board of Estimates, which holds the first of a series of public meetings before voting on the budget.
After the board vote, the plan will move to the council for another round of hearings. Council members may cut the proposal, but they cannot add to it. It will then be returned to the mayor for final approval.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said city budgets often include painful cuts to fire and police that inspire support for new fees."We can't tolerate cuts from public safety agencies and we must find a way to restore them," she said. "It's the way it's always been done. It's the way of democracy."
Baltimore Sun reporter Tricia Bishop contributed to this article.