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Schaefer steps in to save 2 programs...


Schaefer steps in to save 2 programs threatened with 0) cutting to meet deficit

After his dire threats about cuts in state services, Gov. William Donald Schaefer got to play the good guy by saving two social programs.

Saying, "It's never a pleasure for me to be confronted wit decisions that are difficult, that people will be hurt," Mr. Schaefer restored funding to two state medical assistance programs: one that benefits kidney patients on dialysis treatment and another that helps the poor pay for medicine. He said he would seek emergency legislation from the General Assembly next month to extend and possibly modify the pharmacy assistance and kidney disease programs to make them more affordable. Because of a relatively new wrinkle in the Medicaid funding formula, the cost to continue the programs -- about $3 million for each -- will be paid by the federal government.

Two days later, Mr. Schaefer pledged to find money "somewhere in the budget" to keep open the 22 Youth Service Bureaus scheduled to be axed from the budget Feb. 1. State juvenile services officials said the decision spurred "hundreds" of phone calls, letters and petitions from the program's supporters. The state deficit is expected to reach $423 million.

Belvedere goes on block, but bidders are few

The 15-year, roller-coaster ride of Victor Frenkil's ownership of the Belvedere Hotel ended when the hotel went on the auction block -- and, in an additional humiliation for a former grande dame of Baltimore hotels, brought only a handful of bids, a condition John Hentschel Jr., the city real estate officer, blamed on "the real estate horror that's going on." Although more than 100 people gathered inside a hotel ballroom to watch the proceedings, the Belvedere did not attract a third-party buyer and was "bought in" for $3.5 million by a group of lenders that foreclosed on the loan held by Mr. Frenkil's One East Chase Street Associates Limited Partnership. As a result of the sale, all public spaces in the hotel will be closed Tuesday, said attorney Kenneth Davies, the property's bankruptcy trustee. Fifty upper-level apartments, 46 of which are occupied, will remain open, he said. The sale also means that the city of Baltimore, which invested $5 million in the project and was owed more than $6.6 million with accumulated interest, will not get any of its money back. Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., another "junior creditor" of One East Chase Street Associates, will not receive about $125,000 that it was owed. The new owners are expected to try to sell the hotel privately after the Circuit Court for Baltimore City ratifies the auction result.

The fat lady sings, and opera company lives

The Baltimore Opera Company had been facing bankruptcy at the end of the year, but it announced Friday that it had reached a $1 million emergency fund-raising goal, letting it complete its 40th anniversary season and stage productions next season and beyond. Sources said that the opera had raised more than $900,000, and details on the donation of the remaining funds were expected to be worked out. Officials would not disclose the source of most contributions they had received, but they announced the receipt of a $100,000 gift. It was made in memory of Charles S. Garland -- a longtime BOC trustee and former board chairman who died Oct. 13 -- by members of his family, who said they wanted to steady the company's finances and help secure its future. Lowell R. Bowen, the BOC's chairman, described the Garland gift in a statement as "the turning point in our $1 million campaign to stabilize the company." Theopera company has a deficit of $840,000, more than half of which was incurred during the 1989-90 season, and had been forced to cancel a planned 1992 European tour.

Blues turned down on conversion request

The state's insurance commissioner, saying it could "endanger the future of health care delivery" in Maryland and increase its cost, turned down a request by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland Inc. to convert to a non-profit mutual insurance company. Blue Cross, the state's largest health insurer, applied in July to drop its special status as a non-profit health-service plan as a way to expand its powers and compete "on an even playing field" with other insurance carriers in Maryland. But Insurance Commissioner John A. Donaho, in a critical assessment of the company's proposal, wrote "I would be remiss in my duties and responsibilities to the citizens of Maryland if I allowed BCBSM [Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland] to gamble with and endanger the future of health care delivery by allowing mutualization to proceed at this time." Mr. Donaho questioned the ability of Blue Cross to shoulder the additional expense of paying Maryland's 2 percent premium tax, from which the company is now exempt. Amy Levy, a Blue Cross vice president, said "We're disappointed. We'll be exploring options. We've got to read [Mr. Donaho's opinion] and figure out what it says and what our options are."

You wanted snow, you got it

Not only did the Baltimore area get more snow in one evening than it had had all year, it didn't even get it in time for a white Christmas. By about 11 p.m. Thursday, snow emergency plans had gone into effect and nearly 5 inches had accumulated in Baltimore, which had had only 3.2 inches of snow the rest of the year, most of it in March. The snowfall caused scores of traffic accidents; "There's not a stretch of the [Baltimore] Beltway that doesn't have an accident on it," said Cpl. William Johnson of the state police barracks in Woodlawn. National Weather Service forecasters at Baltimore-Washington International Airport had predicted the snowfall, which Fred Davis, a meteorologist, described as a confidence-builder. "People will believe us for the rest of the winter," he said.

And as this column bows out of the paper, Happy New Year to you all.

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