Waste in city government Comparing costs: Growing frustration leads civic group to look at what the county spends.


APPLES TO ORANGES has become the mantra of city officials asked about a comparison of Baltimore's expenditures to similar spending in Baltimore County. The Baltimore Homeowners Coalition, which includes former Councilman Carl Stokes and former Planning Department lieutenant Al Barry, wants a hearing on why the city, with 675,401 residents, spends so much more than the county, which has 717,859 citizens.

Council Tax Committee Chairman Martin O'Malley, who's always looking for a good stage, says he would be happy to comply. The value of such an exercise is dubious. But what the coalition is trying to say is not. Its members and other city residents have lost confidence in the ability of their elected leaders to make wise choices about spending their tax dollars. They want better explanations than they receive in "Taxpayers Night" forums that precede passage of a new city budget each year.

The coalition refers to a recent study by the Maryland Taxpayers Association, which shows the county spending much less than the city for its Legal Department, $1.6 million to $9.6 million; Finance Department, $11.8 million to $31 million; fleet management, $7 million to $35.7 million, and solid waste management, $30.3 million to $53.4 million.

Apples to oranges, says city finance director William R. Brown Jr. His department has costs associated with providing data management and other services for other city departments that its county counterpart doesn't. Furthermore, says Mr. Brown, the city Legal Department's higher expenses are associated with its defense of municipal agencies that its county cousin does not defend, including the litigation-prone board of education.

Apples to oranges, says city public works director George G. Balog, who contends street cleaning in the more congested city makes up $18 million of the difference between what it and the county pay for solid waste management. The city fleet includes 6,500 vehicles compared with the county's 1,280, but he believes the cost per vehicle is similar.

Whether the city spends more than the county isn't important: Baltimore must learn how to spend money more wisely. Tough decisions may be avoided by dipping into pension fund profits to cover the coming year's $2.4 billion budget. But it is not the ultimate answer for a city that keeps losing people and good jobs.

Where is the long-range financial planning city officials promised?

Pub Date: 5/22/97

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