Rawlings-Blake budget would affect pools, rec centers, fire companies
Swimming pools would be open on a staggered schedule this summer, three fire companies would be closed on a rolling basis and 311 would be available less frequently under the preliminary budget that Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake rolled out this morning.
No taxes, including property taxes, would be increased, but residents would be required to pay for bulk trash pickups beginning on January 1, Rawlings-Blake said.
Rawlings-Blake, who is facing an election in the fall, said the budget is "about governing," not politics.
"You can't manage your way out of the great recession," said Rawlings-Blake. "You need to lead the way out of the great recession."
Likely mayoral challenger Otis Rolley, who attended the unveiling of the mayor's budget at the Board of Estimates this morning, criticized the budget, saying that it cut the services on which middle class families most depend.
"Where we're getting cut to the bone is in the neighborhoods," said Rolley. "We're not getting cut to the bone in City Hall. It continues to be an assault on the middle class and our neighborhoods."
Rolley, the city's former planning director, described Rawlings-Blake's budget as a "status quo" spending plan, that did little to stanch the city's decline in population and jobs.
Rolley said he would reduce expenses by increasing government efficiency and grow the city's tax base by attracting new residents and retaining current residents by lowering property taxes. He has not released the specifics of his plan to lower property taxes.
Rawlings-Blake has announced plans to craft a 10 year plan to overhaul the city's finances.
Under her budget, three firehouses would be closed each day. Two companies are currently closed on a rolling basis as a cost-cutting measure, although three were closed daily until late last year.
Swimming pools would open on a staggered schedule through the summer. The large pools at Druid Hill Park and Patterson Park would be open only on weekends from Memoral Day to Labor Day. Six park pools would be open for 10 weeks and 13 walk-to pools would be open for six weeks. Splash pools that are not connected to a swimming pool would be closed.
More than half of the city's 55 recreation centers would be turned over to non-profits or other third-party groups. If groups are not found to take over the centers, some of them could close, Rawlings-Blake said.
The preliminary budget calls for library hours to be reduced, but Rawlings-Blake said the hours could be restored if the city receives additional funding from the state.
Funding for animal services would be increased by $62,000, but three animal control worker jobs would be eliminated. The city would cut the amount of funds given to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter.
Rawlings-Blake's $2.29 billion operating budget includes a spending increase of about 1% over last year. About $65 million in cuts are spread across city services, including cuts to animal services and after school programs.
Rawlings-Blake and finance officials did not detail specifics of the city's $402 million capital budget, but noted that it had dropped by 40% from last year. The reason, city budget director Andrew W. Kleine told the city spending board, is that federal funds for water and waste water programs, had created a spike in capital spending in the current budget year, but are not included in next year's budget.