Reorganizing City Hall


A long-awaited in-house task force report on reorganizing Baltimore's municipal government recommends merging several departments but gives no inkling of the savings such moves might produce. This is a puzzling omission because cost factors are crucial for evaluating such a radical streamlining proposal.

Overall, the report's recommendations look promising. They call for:

* A Department of Housing, Planning and Economic Development to take under its umbrella three agencies with overlapping jurisdiction -- the now-independent Department of Housing and Community Development, the Department of Planning and the quasi-governmental Baltimore Development Corp.

* A Department of Community and Human Services to replace the now-separate Department of Recreation and Parks and the Urban Services Agency as well as an array of panels dealing with such issues as the homeless, children and youth, senior citizens and criminal justice.

* A Public Works and Transportation Department to merge two large agencies in the municipal government, allowing for consolidation of some engineering and administrative functions, contract review, fiscal affairs and personnel.

* A General Services Administration to consolidate duplicative support services -- such as purchasing, radio communications and vehicle fleet management -- spread among several departments. "This consolidation could improve the delivery of these services through tighter, more direct management and could reduce the cost of providing these services," the report says.

8 One of the other task force recommendations calls forcentralizing the application and issuance of municipal permits and licenses, now scattered among eight city bureaucracies. Under the proposal, management and maintenance of the city's physical assets -- which now are handled by five different agencies -- would be the responsibility of a single bureau.

Two other far-reaching recommendations are too-briefly mentioned in the 22-page report: 1) Disbanding the fire board and letting the appointed fire chief run the Fire Department, and 2) "phasing out city funding for art, culture and museum programs over a period of five years, at which point these operations should be self-sustaining."

These two suggestions raise disturbing questions. The arts-funding phase-out, in particular, is a bad idea, even if its real purpose is to jolt the metropolitan counties into increasing their support for the arts. That aspect of the report should be dropped by the mayor as he comes forth with his own plan -- one focused on specifics and the fiscal ramifications of reorganizing City Hall.

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