A day after the City Council balked at passing a tax on bottled beverages, officials said residents are likely to see more walls covered in graffiti, trash cans overflowing with garbage and vacant lots left to fester.
The bottle tax would have raised $11.4 million toward closing the city's $121 million budget gap. Without that revenue, public works officials told a council subcommittee Friday, 31 workers will lose their jobs, and the impact on the city will be noticeable.
"The real impact is on services," Celeste Amato, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, said before the hearing of the labor subcommittee. "We tried not to eliminate anything, but this is the first year the cuts were so deep we simply had no choice. We couldn't reorganize our way out of it."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake had said she would direct $5.4 million in revenue from the bottle tax to public works to stave off the worst of what she called "these potentially devastating cuts." Without new funding, the mayor's office said, the number of miles of city streets swept would be cut in half, and more than 3,000 tons of trash could be left uncollected.
Also on the chopping block is garbage collection from corner cans on weekends, which the mayor's office called "an essential part of keeping litter off the streets." Without that service, the cans would remain unemptied between Friday afternoons and Monday mornings.
Last year, seven graffiti-removal crews answered 5,700 calls for service, according to figures released by the mayor's office. After the cuts, only three crews would remain.
Public works Director David E. Scott said that choosing expenses to trim is no easy task. "We're a service provider," he said. "Whenever you're talking about cuts in services, it affects people."
Facing layoffs are 19 workers in the wastewater bureau and a dozen in the solid waste division. All have three years or less on the job.
Scott told subcommittee members that some workers whose jobs were slated for elimination were moved into other positions.
City Council member Mary Pat Clarke was pleased to hear that. "The numbers change — that's good," she said. "We hope they change in a downwards direction."
Still, the department expects to cut 384 of its 2,771 jobs. Many of the positions to be eliminated are now vacant.
Amato, the public works spokeswoman, said that eliminating jobs — rather than simply leaving them unfilled for a time — "means that we will not be able to factor those positions into our operations in the future. So even if there were money in the future, we'd have to re-create them."
She and other officials have held community meetings to tell Baltimoreans how they would be affected by the service cuts. "We need people to understand what's going to be different after July 1, and it's going to be visibly different," Amato said.
In talking points prepared for the meetings, officials said some of the cuts could have a "significant impact on our city and you, our customers." The officials sought feedback to "lessen those impacts and talk about what we can do together to keep our city clean."
They said the cuts are "heavily impacting our ability to service and maintain our stormwater system." Also at risk are the boats that patrol Baltimore's waters every day, cleaning up bottles, cans and other litter.
Regular cleaning in the city's business district is imperiled, and there will be about 8,300 fewer empty houses boarded up and vacant lots cleaned, officials said — which the mayor's office warns will make them likelier to attract garbage and crime.
While officials say that fewer than 10 positions will be eliminated from street-cleaning crews, litter removal in the Middle Branch area would be halted, and mechanical street sweeping would be reduced by 30 percent citywide. Some neighborhoods would lose that service altogether.
Still undetermined is whether bulk trash collection will be eliminated. Department officials, concerned about refrigerators and sofas piled up on sidewalks, say they are trying to save it.
The hearing was chaired by Councilman Warren Branch, whose surprise vote against the bottle tax Thursday led to the 7-7 tie that scuttled it.
The tax could be revived if Branch or another opponent changed his or her vote, but there was no talk during the hearing Friday of revisiting the issue. Subcommittee members focused instead on whether the Department of Public Works could work more efficiently and more cost-effectively.
Some took issue with the department's use of contractors, and asked whether it was really necessary, for example, to spend $4,000 replacing a single fire hydrant.
Glennard S. Middleton, president of Local 44 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents the city's blue-collar workers, said the proposed layoffs and job eliminations made no sense.
"There are not enough workers, not enough equipment, not enough supplies," he told the subcommittee. When it's time to let workers go, he went on, "they always cut at the lowest levels, the ones working from paycheck to paycheck."
Middleton lauded the public works employees' dedication to their jobs.
"They're the ones who are out there working those water main breaks," he said. "The ones who are called out in those two blizzards in February, and one in December. They're the essential employees."
email@example.comSign up for Baltimore Sun local news text alerts