Mayor: Young's budget changes are 'irresponsible'

MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakedismissed Thursday a package of budget changes proposed by Council PresidentBernard C. "Jack" Young, saying most of his proposals are "unadvisable, unworkable and irresponsible."

"I cannot support them, and I encourage the Council to act responsibly and reject any actions in their furtherance," Rawlings-Blake said in a letter to council members.

The mayor said the $4.8 million in cuts Young proposed to the city's $2.3 billion operating budget would result in nearly two dozen layoffs and the elimination of key programs. She chided him for other proposals that she considers fiscally irresponsible.

Rawlings-Blake did pledge to restore funding for several items that had been cut in her preliminary budget proposal, which closed a $48 million shortfall. The Experience Corps., which hires retirees as classroom aides, and "Childfirst" afterschool programs will be funded, she said.

The mayor also said that no firefighters would be demoted as a result of the closure of three of the city's 55 fire companies.

Young, who is trying to prevent the planned closures of recreation centers and fire companies by trimming other agency budgets, eliminating vacant positions and tapping into a health care rainy day fund, was incensed by Rawlings-Blake's response.

"It's a sad day in Baltimore when our Mayor refuses to support a proposal that would greatly benefit City residents," Young said in a statement. "The mayor's refusal to support these proposals serves as a slap in the face to every citizen of Baltimore."

The council is expected to vote on the budget by the end of the month.

The mayor's office said the city's finance department calculated the impact of Young's proposed trims. The cuts, the administration said, would result in the loss of many jobs.

For example, Young's proposal to shave $863,000 from the $39 million allocation for police administration would result in eight people losing their jobs, the administration said.

At an afternoon budget hearing, Young exhorted his council colleagues to break with the mayor and support his proposal, which he says was crafted in response to residents' concerns about the spending plan.

Citizens "voted for us not to walk lock, stock and barrel with the mayor, but to respresent them," Young said. "A vote against this plan is a vote against everything our constituents have asked us to do."

Young also had harsh words for Fire Chief James S. Clack, who assured the council Thursday that the company closures would not result in longer fire response times.

"I want to know why you, the fire chief, are not defending your budget," said Young, prompting cheers from about three dozen firefighters in attendance. "I want you to stand up for your men and women."

Clack said he fought for his department "behind closed doors" but preferred to remain non-confrontational in public.

Council members reported mixed feelings over Rawlings-Blake's and Young's plans. The mayor named nine of the 15 council members in her letter, saying she had had "hours of meetings" with them over the budget.

Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, who was not among those named, questioned why the mayor would have met with some council members but not others.

"I thought it was strange. It looked like there was a group," she said. Clarke said she would support Young's amendements to the budget.

Councilman Brandon Scott, who was mentioned in the letter, said he would vote against Young's amendments because he supported the programs for which Rawlings-Blake had pledged to restore funds.

But one member named in the letter said that he would support some parts of Young's proposals. Councilman Nick Mosby, who represents West Baltimore, said he was worried that the rec center closures would disproportionately affect his area of the city. Four centers, all on the west side, are slated to close in August.

"It's creating a hole in West Baltimore neighborhoods that vitally need these centers," Mosby said.

Under Rawlings-Blake's plan, the city would target recreation funding to 30 of the 55 centers, modernizing and enlarging them while expanding programming. Other centers would be turned over to private parties or the school system. As many as 10 centers could close if partners are not found to run them, city officials have said.

The tension over spending for the budget year that begins in July comes as council members prepare to move forward on Rawlings-Blake's planned increase in the city's bottle tax. The mayor proposed increasing the tax from 2 to 5 cents next year as part of a plan to raise $300 million to repair dilapidated school buildings.

The measure has been stalled in a committee chaired by Councilman Carl Stokes, but the mayor's backers on the council, lead by Council Vice President Edward Reisinger, are preparing to bypass the committee and move forward with the bill at Monday's council meeting. A majority of council members support the tax.