Aid for some programs was not considered in preliminary figures
Members of the Baltimore City Council say that the budget cuts for 2012 will not be as drastic as those for 2011, and that some of the announced cuts may not be necessary if the City of Baltimore receives the aid it expects to get from the state.
Lester Davis, spokesman for City Council President Jack Young, said that discussing specific cuts was “premature….We’re at the beginning of a very long process.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in introducing her budget last week, announced cuts to service at swimming pools, libraries and recreation centers, and the end to free bulk-trash pickup.
Davis said that cuts to library services would not be necessary if the State of Maryland comes through with the aid the city “anticipates” this year.
Also, the city’s “park pools,” the large pool complexes located in Druid Hill, Patterson, Riverside and Clifton parks, would be open more hours for the full summer. The large community pools will be open weekends from Memorial Day till June 25, and then open daily through Labor Day weekend—more hours than in recent years. Hours at community “walk-to” pools will be reduced, but all pools will open this summer.
The mayor intends to follow through on her proposal to shift management of as many of half the city’s recreation centers to private nonprofits.
“I think it’s a rather smart way of keeping rec centers open,” said Eleventh District City Councilman William H. Cole IV. “The details of the transfer are important, of course.”
Cole said he had spoken to Gregory Bayor, who has been Director of the city Department of Recreation and Parks for nearly a year, about the plan. “He has been director of rec and parks in Rockville and in Elgin, Illinois, he’s been doing this for 30 years, and he started in Baltimore,” said Cole. “If he looks across the table at me and says ‘I think we can make this work,’ I’m going to place a little faith in that.”
He said that Recreation and Parks, which has seen its budget slashed repeatedly in the last four decades, needs help. “We don’t have the hours we need and we don’t have the manpower” to run the city’s 55 recreation recreation centers well.
“If we can keep the rec centers open under different management, it’s a wonderful opportunity for kids,” he said. “We are not abandoning the rec centers in any way, shape or form.”
He said that if nonprofits come forward to run some of the centers, the city will offer them an annual stipend for expenses.
“The problem is our rec centers are not open when the kids want to be there,” he said. “With a public-private partnership we can keep them open and make them into community centers with greater hours of operation.”
First District City Councilman James B. Kraft said that the city would invest money in Patterson Park this year. “The park’s rec center will get capital improvements,” he said, adding that he would meet with Bayor this week or next to discuss the work.
He also said that more of the money raised in Patterson Park should stay in Patterson Park. “For its acreage, Patterson Park gets the most usage,” said Kraft. If you count the number of users per acre, it’s by far the most.”
Money raised by the Friends of Patterson Park, a private nonprofit, is used for the benefit of Patterson Park, but fees collected by the city go into the general fund.
Cole said that the city is already talking to potential partners for South Baltimore Rec Center and a couple of centers on Pennsylvania Avenue, a neighborhood he also represents.
One thing that is almost certain to remain in the budget is the end of free bulk trash pickup. Cole said that so few people use the free service that its effect on the city is barely noticeable.
He said that the city has been fighting “corner dumping” for decades despite being one of “very few” cities to offer free pickup.
Robert H. Murrow, spokesman for the city Department of Public Works, said that he did not know which—if any—cities besides Baltimore still offer the service for free, but he does know that Baltimore is unusual. “We hang onto things here when everybody else has moved on,” he said.
Cole said that corner dumping is most prevalent around the first of the month, when renters move from apartments, and when contractors clean out the properties, and free bulk trash service does not make a difference there.
“People who take the time to schedule a bulk trash pickup are not the problem,” said Cole. “It’s the lazy people who won’t take the time to schedule one.”
People who want a dumping area cleaned up can still call 311 and will not be charged, he said.
by Jacqueline Watts