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Mayor's new budget cuts 250 employees

About 250 city workers would lose their jobs under a budget plan unveiled Monday by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake that would close an unprecedented $121 million shortfall by curtailing some services and implementing a $50 million package of taxes and fees.

The budget plan -- the second released by the Rawlings-Blake administration in recent weeks -- would preserve key services without raising property taxes.

"A smarter, more efficient government and a diversified revenue stream will put Baltimore on sounder fiscal footing for years to come," Rawlings-Blake said. "We can cut government, make it more efficient and demand and accept that all of us must share the pain."

The mayor presented City Council members with nine proposals to boost revenue, including increases to income, telecommunications, energy and parking-lot taxes and a rise in parking fines.

The administration has asked the council to speed the passage of two new taxes, which it estimated would generate as much as $15 million -- a $350 annual tax on hospital and university beds and a four-cent tax on some beverage containers.

The taxes are designed to bring in revenue from those who visit or work in the city without unduly burdening residents already saddled with high property tax rates. The administration has its sights on private nonprofits, which do not pay property taxes but rely on city services.

"We've chosen to diversify, not to hit one sector extremely hard ... but to give opportunities for people to avoid the tax altogether," Rawlings-Blake said.

Last month, the administration released a doomsday budget scenario that illustrated the impact of plummeting revenues and rising costs on the city's $2.2 billion budget -- without new sources of funding, police helicopter, marine and mounted units would be eliminated, several fire companies would be shut down in addition to those that currently close on a rotating basis and 29 neighborhood recreation centers would close.

The second spending plan reverses many of those cuts, fully funding sworn police units, reducing the number of fire companies that close on a rolling basis and keeping all rec centers open throughout the summer.

It does cut 250 employees, compared to the first plan that would have laid off 600. Those slated to be let go come primarily from recreation, parks and public works departments and include 50 contract employees from the police department.

Additionally, the revised budget includes $70 million in spending reductions and mandatory furlough days, and increased costs for prescription plan premiums for employees.

The taxes are subject to approval by the council members, who are divided on some of the fees and are drafting some revenue-generating strategies of their own.

Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young said in a statement that he applauded the mayor's plan to keep rec centers open but hoped that layoffs could be avoided. Young plans to introduce several measures to boost revenues as soon as next week's council meeting.

Councilman Carl Stokes said in a statement that he wanted to steer clear of fees that placed "undue financial burdens on taxpayers" and hoped to avoid furloughs of city workers.


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