THE EFFECTIVENESS of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's fiscal policies can in part be found in the city's consistent bond market ratings. Those ratings of A by Standard & Poor's and A1 by Moody's are envied by other big cities, especially Washington, which almost had its bonds placed in the "junk" category.
Baltimore has avoided biting off more than it could chew. An example of that is the $32 million in bond sales that city voters are being asked to approve in the Nov. 7 election. Although the city's debt policy would allow it to seek voter approval to sell $60 million in bonds next fiscal year, budget analysts know that would not be realistic considering the continued decline of the city's tax base.
In addition to the general obligation bonds, the city also plans to sell $10 million in certificates of participation to pay for a new police and fire communications system and $3 million in notes to participate in state programs to develop commercial, industrial and park land.
The city actually decreased its general obligation debt from $433 million to $373 million over the past 10 years. That's still a lot of debt. But the city can handle the $32 million in new bonds that voters are being asked to approve.
The new bond projects will make Baltimore a better city. They include $10 million to overhaul schools, of which $5 million would go to renovate Hamilton Elementary School and Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School.
An $8 million community development allocation would include $2 million in local support for federal housing programs, $1.4 million in loans to home buyers to help pay settlement expenses and $1 million for major renovations to Lafayette Market.
Economic development programs would get $6.5 million, of which $2 million would be used to turn the old Fishmarket into Port Discovery Children's Museum. A $2.3 million allocation would go to the Baltimore Zoo to build its new Earth Conservation Center exhibit.
Another $2.5 million is designated for the Community Development Financing Corp., which provides loans to help rehabilitate and purchase abandoned housing; $1 million to remove asbestos from city buildings other than schools; $1 million to provide a loan to Sinai Hospital, which is expanding its emergency department; and $500,000 to overhaul the Cherry Hill Park Swimming Pool and Bathhouse.