After two years of spending cuts and $50 million in new taxes, Baltimore still faces an $81 million gap in its $1.2 billion budget, finance officials told the City Council on Thursday.
City budget chief Andrew W. Kleine said the shortfall was equal to the cost of keeping more than 1,000 police officers or 1,200 firefighters on duty, an illustration that prompted an outcry from council members still bitter from the rancorous deliberations that led to the current budget.
"We went through this last year," Councilman James B. Kraft said. "What this does is really create an atmosphere of fear."
Facing a $120 million budget hole last year, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake unveiled a doomsday scenario that involved laying off police officers and firefighters, closing recreation centers and eliminating popular services. Then she proposed a package of $50 million in new or increased taxes and fees to mitigate the worst of the cuts.
Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke bristled at a slide Kleine presented that showed the impact $81 million in cuts could have on a single department.
"We do not want our fiscal situation equated with firefighters and police anymore," she said.
Councilman Robert W. Curran chimed in: "We don't balance these shortcomings on the backs of public safety."
Curran criticized officials for not funding swimming pools for the duration of the summer. Ultimately, business leaders and private donors gave more than $400,000 to keep the pools open until school began in late August.
"We can't go out with our hats in our hands for money," Curran said. "Recreation and Parks is also a public safety issue."
Councilwoman Belinda Conaway, who chairs the council's budget committee, urged Kleine to find a way to plug the hole without new taxes or cuts to cherished programs.
"We don't expect you to come back with this scare tactic," she said. "It's not right."
A complete budget — including cuts and possible new or increased taxes — is slated to be released in March.