Details emerge on city budget

Proposal's cuts would close 13 pools, more than half of recreation centers

March 27, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

One-third of children and teenagers who attend rec center activities will be shut out of programs under the gloomy budget scenario unveiled by Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake's administration, the head of recreation and parks said Friday.

More than half of the city's recreation centers would be closed down, and funding for 13 neighborhood swimming and wading pools would dry up under the preliminary spending plan drafted by the city's Finance Department.

The budget - which calls for layoffs of more than 600 workers and deep cuts to fire and police - has provoked outcry from residents, city workers and agency heads. The doomsday spending scenario chops $121 million from the city's $2.2 billion budget and is expected to help Rawlings-Blake sell residents and the City Council on a package of new taxes and fees that she plans to present in mid-April.

'Rather devastating' cuts
At the second of a series of public meetings on the budget, interim parks director Dwayne B. Thomas described the proposed cuts as "rather devastating." The cuts, which would eliminate 160 jobs, would prompt a reorganization of the department and deprive 100,000 young people of recreation opportunities, he said.

Boxing, golf, tennis and fishing programs would cease, the adult softball and youth basketball season would be truncated and funds for special events would be wiped out, Thomas said. Free recreation programs for seniors would also be eliminated under the budget proposal, which chops one-third from the department's $26 million general fund allocation.

New details of cuts to the city's animal control department were also revealed at Friday's meeting. The two employees who are charged with removing dead animals would be let go, and the remaining seven animal enforcement officers would be given the task of handling live and dead animals.

Four employees of the city's animal shelter also would lose their jobs, which would result in animals being euthanized at a faster rate, said Dr. Olivia Farrow, interim health commissioner.

Health Department spared
Money for a needle exchange program and school-based health services would also be cut, although the Health Department's budget - which receives more than half of its funding from Washington - would remain largely intact. The Commission on Aging and Retirement Education would be absorbed into the department as a cost-saving measure.

The Enoch Pratt Free Library system receives only a few minor nips to its spending under the budget plan. Library usage has risen sharply and the libraries are drawing children and job seekers, said library director Carla D. Hayden.

Rawlings-Blake praised the library as an example of "doing more with less." Many library branches were forced to shorten their hours as part of last year's budget cuts.

In two weeks, the mayor is slated to introduce a new budget that would alter the picture with a $50 million revenue package.

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