Dixon address likely to set less ambitious course

The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Sheila Dixon will deliver her third State of the City address today, a speech expected to lay out a less ambitious agenda than previous addresses because of a sharp economic drop that has vastly reduced city resources.

The speech "is going to be focused on some hard decisions," Dixon said in an interview. "We're focused on being more innovative and more efficient and more effective, understanding there are going to be some trying times."

The city's budget situation is far tighter than in 2007, when in her first address as mayor she proposed increases in arts funding and more staff members at recreation centers.

Dixon recently directed agency heads to slash spending to close a projected $65 million spending gap for the budget that begins July 1. Budget solutions will "definitely" include layoffs for city workers, Dixon said last week.

Scott Peterson, Dixon's spokesman, said the turbulent economy adds significance to the annual address. "When you look at what we're facing, not just here but in the whole country, these speeches are more important," he said. "The words coming from public leaders matter more."

The mayor faces personal difficulties this year. An investigation by the state prosecutor's office resulted in a 12-count criminal indictment against the mayor alleging fraud, theft and misuse of office, and the case has just begun moving through the courts. Dixon has denied any wrongdoing, and rarely mentions her legal troubles in public, insisting that she is focusing on city business.

Dixon's staff prepared eight drafts of the speech for her to review over the past two weeks. She carried numbered copies to various events and has been marking up versions.

The address is expected to lay out priorities for the next year. She is pushing a proposal to reduce trash pickup from twice to once per week while increasing recycling collection. She also wants residents to become healthier, and she wants new city plans to include an environmentally friendly focus.

The mayor will likely review highlights from the past year, including a drop in homicides that brought the city's total to a 20-year low.

In previous annual speeches, Dixon announced changes in police strategy, departing from her predecessor's zero-tolerance policy that led to thousands of arrests on minor offenses in favor of a strategy that focuses on the most violent offenders and those with previous handgun violations. She has also outlined proposals to create a land bank that would streamline sales of vacant property and plans to form a city agency to oversee construction projects.

She will likely stress plans to build on those programs. Dixon said there will be a positive focus to the address. "I'm an optimistic person," she said. "You have to maintain that as you go through some trying times."

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