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Rawlings-Blake wants more money from state for Baltimore rec centers, parks

The Rawlings-Blake administration outlined its legislative agenda Monday to city council members, including a request to increase money the state gives Baltimore for recreation centers and parks.

Legislation to increase — for the first time in 28 years — the amount the city receives in open space funding from $1.5 million to $6 million is part of a package of about a dozen bills city officials will push the General Assembly to adopt. The 90-day session got underway Jan. 13.

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"We can use it not just for capital, but we can use it for operating," Deputy Mayor Andrew Smullian told council members at their weekly luncheon. The administration says a $6 million grant from the state is based on the city's contribution to the transfer tax.

That money could be used toward Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's $135 million plan, which includes rehabbing or building 11 fitness and wellness centers, renovating five community centers and upgrading four outdoor sports centers and four pools.

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Improving recreation opportunities is one of four broad goals the mayor has said she wants to focus on during the remainder of her term. She is not seeking re-election.

She closed a handful of centers and turned others over to private groups to run, freeing up resources for new and improved centers. The $4.4 million Morrell Park center became the first new rec center built in a decade when it opened in July 2014.

Rawlings-Blake's agenda also focuses on securing enough money to operate the city schools system and the next installment in the $1 billion school construction plan.

She is pushing for several items related to police reform, including making it easier to disclipline officers and strengthening the civilian review board. The mayor also wants to offer police officers, firefighters and sheriff's deputies a $2,500 tax credit to encourage them to live in the city.

Other bills include:

-Authorizing the city to sell $130 million in bonds to fund projects in the 2018 and 2019 fiscal years. The money would go to school construction, restoration of libraries and other public buildings and neighborhood revitalization efforts, such as building broadband infrastructure and facade improvements. If approved, voters would be asked to approve the expenditures in November.

-Offering the city's arts and entertainment tax credit to urban manufacturers and graphic design and architectural design firms. The city offers 10-year property tax credits for renovated buildings in certain areas, including Highlandtown and Station North.

-Authorizing Baltimore police to arrest people without warrants when they are suspected of assaulting traffic enforcement officers.

-Allowing only judges the ability to grant bail for individuals with past violent crime convictions when they're arrested for illegal possession of firearms.

-Exempting baby diapers from the state sales tax.

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