Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake would permanently close three fire companies and could shut several recreation centers in an effort to close a $48 million gap in the city's $3 billion operating budget, according to city officials who have been briefed on the spending proposal.
The budget, which Rawlings-Blake will unveil at Wednesday's spending board meeting, would trim costs by combining the 911 and 311 call centers and increasing the rates paid by city employees for some health plans, officials said.
"The mayor's budget plan focuses on the fundamentals that will help get Baltimore growing again — funding police hiring, public education and blight elimination, all while reducing property taxes for homeowners," Ryan O'Doherty, a mayoral spokesman, said in an email. He declined to comment in detail about the budget.
Rawlings-Blake would eliminate the practice of closing fire companies on a rolling basis by abolishing three fire companies. The companies have not been named, but those familiar with the budget said they would be in stations that house at least two companies. A company is made up of either a truck or an engine and the staff assigned to it.
Rick Hoffman, president of the firefighter's union, said his group strongly opposes permanent closures.
"If we lose them permanently, it makes our job a hell of a lot harder," he said. "Not only does this affect the citizens' safety, but it affects our safety."
Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, who attended a Tuesday budget briefing, said many residents will likely be concerned about the closures.
"We're going to be inundated with a lot of calls from constituents because of that," Reisinger said, adding that he was relieved that no station houses would close.
Reisinger said he would reserve judgment on the closures until he had spoken to Fire Chief James S. Clack.
The chief did not reply to a Sun request for comment.
O'Doherty noted that Rawlings-Blake had reduced the number of rotating closures from four to three since taking office and that the number of fire deaths last year was the lowest since 1938.
The budget, which would go into effect July 1, would continue Rawlings-Blake's plan to improve or expand 30 of the city's rec centers. The city has awarded contracts to run four centers to private groups, and officials are reviewing a second round of bids.
As many as eight centers could close if private operators are not found to run them, officials said.
For the first time in three years, there would be no furlough days for city workers. However, most city employees would not receive a cost-of-living increase.
The spending proposal is less Draconian than the budgets for the past three years, which saw shortfalls of $65 million to $121 million.
Since 2009, the city has closed fire companies on a rotating basis; shortened hours at libraries, swimming pools and the 311 phone service; closed Police Athletic League centers; cut back on collecting dead animals, planting trees and trimming grass; and abolished more than 1,000 positions.
Finance officials are scheduled to detail the budget Wednesday before the five members of the Board of Estimates. The spending board will hold a series of hearings on the budget before voting on it. The City Council will then hold a second round of hearings before passing a final budget in June.
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