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Baltimore officials propose $2.9 billion operating budget for the coming year

Baltimore officials propose $2.9 billion operating budget for the coming year
Baltimore Budget Director Bob Cenname, left, and Finance Director Henry Raymond answer questions Wednesday at City Hall in Baltimore after releasing the city’s 2020 budget proposal. (Ian Duncan / The Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore officials proposed a $2.9 billion operating budget for the coming year Wednesday, adding almost $100 million in spending on services — a 3.4 percent increase over the current year.

Budget Director Bob Cenname said the city has a $33 million surplus, thanks to higher than anticipated revenues and slightly lower spending than forecast. The money will be divided between spending on information technology upgrades, the demolition of vacant houses, fixing up city-owned buildings and renovating public markets.

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The administration of Mayor Catherine Pugh submitted the budget Wednesday to the Board of Estimates. Pugh, who controls the board, did not attend the meeting because she is being treated for pneumonia at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, the board chairman, said he was pleased with the administration’s proposal.

“The budget that’s being proposed is a good budget,” said Young, pointing to money for improving police department technology and the demolition funds.

Here’s what is planned:

» Baltimore Police Department would see its budget increase $20 million to $530 million — a 4 percent jump. The proposal significantly reorganizes how the department’s budget is structured, taking almost $90 million out of patrol and assigning it to other functions. Cenname said the changes are being made because much of the money labeled as patrol in the current budget was for spending not related to deploying front-line officers.

» A new union contract with police officers is forecast to be cost neutral. Raises and incentive payments in the contract are expected to cost $5 million in the coming year, but a change to the patrol deployment schedule should save $5 million in overtime.

» The police department would get $400,000 to hire four crime lab technicians to work on fentanyl cases, helping track down dealers of the lethal opioid.

» Pugh’s office would see its budget increased 18 percent to $14.7 million. She would gain five new staff for a total of 83.

» The city plans to increase the current 95 red light and 75 speed cameras to 100 of each. Revenue is projected to remain about $21 million as drivers learn to slow down and stop at red lights, reducing the number of tickets each camera issues.

» The budget includes $15 million in demolition funds, an increase of $5 million as the city launches an ambitious plan to tear down more than 2,000 vacant houses by next summer.

» It includes a first payment of $15 million into the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $13 million for the Children and Youth Fund.

» The independently run and largely state funded city school system would get $375.6 million in financial support, an increase of $3 million. That includes the last $38.5 million chunk of aid the mayor pledged three years ago to help the schools until a new state budget formula is developed.

» The Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts would get $500,000 to be used, in part, to market the Preakness Stakes, as Mayor Catherine Pugh fights to keep second jewel of horse racing’s Triple Crown in the city.

» The budget includes $634 million for capital projects.

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