Young administration presents slimmer 2021 budget

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Photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr

The Young administration today released its outline of a $3.8 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, a scaled-down version of the plan after officials slashed $103.1 million to account for the economic losses associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

With the projected loss in revenue, city officials cut 240 vacant positions across all agencies, requested pay freezes or furloughs from municipal workers, trimmed contributions to the rainy day fund and re-assigned police officers in certain units to patrol, among other initiatives.

At a press conference Wednesday morning, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said that despite the cuts, the budgets shows the city’s commitment to children and families is “rock solid” and will allow the Baltimore to navigate the remainder of the pandemic.

“As we prepare to emerge from this global health emergency, while the city’s economic outlook remains uncertain, my proposed budget creates a realistic path forward for Baltimore,” he said.

Among the highlights are a $30 million down payment for the state’s “Built to Learn” school construction program, $1.4 million for two new data centers to help the Baltimore Police Department “rapidly respond to crime” and more than $205 million to modernize the city’s online infrastructure.

Overall, the city is spending a record $400 million on support for Baltimore City Public Schools, a package that includes aid, contributions to the 21st Century Schools program for new construction, teacher pensions, crossing guards and other programs.

The budget also calls for using money from the Children and Youth Fund to keep open rec centers, continue after-school programs and other activities.

Young did not take layoffs in the city’s workforce off the table, but he said “that’s the last thing that I want to do.”

“When a person is laid off, it affects a whole family,” he said. “It could really put families into homelessness.”

The city has presented unions representing municipal workers with three proposals that include pay freezes, furloughs or layoffs. Young said they have not yet received a response.

“I want to work with the unions to come up with a compromise we can all work around during this pandemic,” Young said. “And after the pandemic is over, everything that was promised to them, we can make sure that when the economy recovers, we give it to them.”

Henry Raymond, the director of the Department of Finance, said the proposals would save the city about $15 million and help balance the budget.

A decision by the unions “will determine what the next steps are that we have to take,” Raymond said.

The vacant jobs that the city proposed to de-fund “run the gamut,” Raymond said, including office clerks, secretaries, fiscal clerks, procurement buyer, budget analyst and accountants in various agencies.

But the city avoided cuts to positions that provide essential services, such as police officers and trash collectors.

There will be some changes within the Baltimore Police Department, however. The budget calls for reassigning officers from mounted, aviation and traffic units to patrol, and reducing helicopter flight time from 16 hours to 12 hours each day.

Horses and motorcycles would only be used for special events and traffic control.

Police Commissioner Michael Harrison classified the changes as a reorganization, allowing the department to deploy certain resources as needed while trimming overtime for the affected units.

“We had to make smart choices about how to make sure we can continue to deliver the services, but do it in a different way that doesn’t cost as much,” he said.

The city has already undertaken numerous cost-cutting measures in response to coronavirus.

On March 24, the city suspended parking enforcement and meter fees to protect municipal workers.

Raymond and Cenname said the city will likely lose some income tax revenue as more and more people who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic file for unemployment.

With expected declines in income taxes, tourist revenue and other fees, Young on March 20 instituted a freeze on new hiring and non-essential spending.

Baltimore is reportedly losing $20 million due to stay-at-home orders and other restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

The budget will next move to the city council.

City Council President Brandon Scott released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he will closely examine the budget to make sure that cuts do not place a greater burden on vulnerable populations and the working class.

“COVID-19 is laying bare the inequalities that have plagued our city for generations,” he said. “Our response cannot be to make those disparities worse.”

He also said he will ask officials with the Department of Finance how they drafted the budget with an eye toward equity, as is required of all agencies under the Equity Assessment Program created in 2018.

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel


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