Employment, increased funding for youth programs and a living wage were a few of the reforms city residents demanded of City Council members during public meeting Wednesday evening.
Before the annual "Taxpayers' Night" at the War Memorial Building, where council members hear comments on the mayor's preliminary budget, many residents rallied against cuts to after-school programs, recreation centers and other youth services.
Although the City Council does not have the authority to allocate spending, residents took the opportunity to voice their objections to the mayor's budget, which trimmed $65 million from the city's $1.29 billion operating budget to balance expenditures and revenue. Overall operating spending would grow by 1 percent from last year's plan.
While the proposal fully funds the city's obligation to schools, provides for 300 police officers to be hired to fill vacancies and increases funding for some technology initiatives, critics say that the proposed budget cuts too much from youth programs.
About 40 high school students with the advocacy group Safe and Sound Campaign attended, wearing T-shirts that said "It's About Opportunity" on the front and "So Don't Arrest Me," across the back. Others at the rally held signs that read "Jobs Not Prisons," or "Jobs Jobs Jobs."
Organizers with Safe and Sound say that under the plan, youth summer employment would fall 44 percent short of the 9,000 jobs filled in 2009.
For too long, there has been "a prediction of failure placed on the youth of Baltimore," said Alexis Flanagan, a community organizer with the group.
During an hourlong rally on the War Memorial steps, Flanagan used a megaphone to say crime control will receive 11 times more money than programs for youth.
At the hearing, Ralph Eugene Moore Jr., director of the St. Frances Academy Community Center, received a standing ovation from the crowd after he asked council members to reverse cuts. "We need to make a Baltimore City where the young people are the priority," he said.
One resident stood up and spoke about the need for a skate park — a place where kids can stay out of trouble and get some exercise.
"It's staying in shape, staying safe, and staying out of trouble," said Stephanie Murdock, a fellow with the Open Society Institute — Baltimore, who spoke on behalf of the city's skaters.
During the hearing, several residents also expressed concerns over the increase of 9 percent for water and sewer rates and fees for Baltimore City customers.
On Wednesday morning, the Baltimore City Board of Estimates approved raising the rates, which will increase the annual water and sewer bill for a family of four by about $88.
Donald Smith, a Northeast Baltimore resident, spoke out about the increase at the evening hearing and said the council was "out of ideas."
"It's 9 percent on top of my bills. It doesn't feel good when you feel you are being squeezed," he said. "What will be charged next with? A walking tax?"