City faces $81 million budget gap
Despite two years of budget cuts and a $50 million in new taxes, Baltimore faces an $81 million gap in its $1.2 billion budget, finance officials said at a City Council hearing Thursday.
City budget chief Andrew W. Kleine said the gap was equal to the cost of keeping more than 1,000 police officers or 1,200 firefighters on duty, prompting an outcry from council members still bitter from a rancorous budget process last year.
"We went through this last year," said Councilman James B. Kraft. "What this does is really create an atmosphere of fear."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake unveiled a doomsday budget in March that plugged a $120 million hole by laying off police officers and firefighters, shuttering recreation centers and eliminating popular services. Several weeks later, she rolled out a package of $50 million new or increased taxes and fees that mitigated the worst cuts.
Council members were barraged with calls and emails from dueling interest groups. Some wanted the council to prevent the cuts; others opposed the new taxes.
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 any more," she said.
Councilman Robert W. Curran chimed in. "We don't balance these shortcomings on the backs of public safety," he said. "Statistics don't lie. Statisticians do."
He also criticized officials for not funding pools for the duration of the summer. Business leaders and private donors gave more than $400,000 to keep pools open until classes began in late August.
"We can't go out with our hats in our hands for money to keep our pools open," Curran said. "Recreation and Parks is also a public safety issue."
A complete budget -- including cuts and possible new or increased taxes -- is slated to be released in March.