Mayor Kurt Schmoke has warned leaders of municipal unions and members of the City Council that as many as 2,009 employees could be laid off by July to help eliminate a projected $54.1 million deficit in next year's budget.
And the number could increase to 2,230 if the council approves a bill that would repeal the city's beverage container tax, Schmoke told the council members in a private meeting yesterday.
Schmoke is counting on the estimated $7 million in revenue from the container tax as he prepares his budget for the new fiscal year beginning July 1.
But after a committee hearing last week on a bill to repeal the 14-month old tax, the sentiment of the majority of the council was in favor of repeal.
The projected budget deficit and the threat of layoffs prompted Schmoke last week to meet with the heads of all city employee unions and ask them to consider accepting a salary freeze next year, said Clinton R. Coleman, Schmoke's press secretary.
Coleman said that pay raises that have been negotiated for many of the city's 29,000 employees are expected to cost about $38 million. Consequently, a freeze could avert most of the layoffs and shrink the projected deficit.
Yesterday, Schmoke implemented a pay freeze on the members of his executive staff and cabinet, Coleman said. Also, Schmoke has said that he would not accept an increase in his $60,000-a-year salary for the next four years.
But at least one union leader said that a salary freeze is unacceptable. Cheryl Boykins Glenn, president of the 5,300-member City Union of Baltimore, said that "more creative solutions" must be sought before freezing the salaries of the mostly white-collar employees in her union.
"A salary freeze is not the most viable alternative at this time," said Glenn. She added that the median salary for workers in her union is between $17,000 and $19,000 a year.
CUB members, which are employed in 500 job classifications ranging from housing inspectors to jail counselors, are slated to receive a 6 percent pay raise in July.
Glenn said that her union is "very, very understanding of the city's fiscal posture. We realize that the mayor's back is against the wall."
But, she said, other alternatives, including furloughs, deferred pay and early retirement packages, must be considered before her union accepts a salary freeze.
Councilman John A. Schaefer, D-1st, chairman of the Budget and Appropriations Committee, called the wage increases negotiated in the labor contracts "too generous" given the city's financial situation. He said "that has put us in a real hole."
By the end of this month, union leaders are scheduled to get back to the mayor with their answers regarding a salary freeze and with any other ideas that they have on reducing the budget gap. After receiving that information, Coleman said, "the mayor will decide in 10 days on a final strategy."
Even though final budget numbers won't be in place, layoff notices would have to go out by April 1 to meet contractual obligations, Coleman said.
Schmoke's office has emphasized that the projected deficit does not take into account any increases the city may receive in state aid after the current session of the General Assembly.
"We always prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Schmoke said. "We are assuming that we won't have to resort to drastic measures or massive layoffs."
In past years, state aid has provided the city with a cushion against layoffs. Last year, Schmoke predicted that there would be more than 1,000 layoffs. But in the end, only about 150 employees lost their jobs after infusions of state aid.
But this year could be different largely because the state is also facing severe revenue shortages and has also asked many employees to forgo salary increases.
"Our first line of action has to be in Annapolis to persuade the General Assembly to give us some reliable and on-going funding," said Council President Mary Pat Clarke. "Right now, the city is facing a very serious dilemma."
The budget gap prompted Schmoke last week to ask for reductions in the fiscal 1992 budget requests of three agencies previously spared from cuts -- police, fire and education.