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Revised 2021 city budget calls for fire, police reorganization, halt to pay raises

Posted at 11:35 AM, May 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-06 17:38:29-04

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Mayor Jack Young on Wednesday unveiled a revised version of the city's budget heading into fiscal year 2021.

Due to COVID-19, the city says the budget needed to be rewritten in a matter of weeks.

The newly proposed budget totals $3.8 billion, including $3 billion for operating expenses and $832 million in capital investments.

About $103.1 million had to be trimmed from the previous budget to account for revenue losses that are expected to continue through the summer, and possibly into the fall.

As result of the pandemic, the city reported an income tax decrease of $25 million. Highway user revenue is down $20 million, while travel and tourism took a $40 million hit.

To make up for those losses, the budget includes significant cost cutting to several agencies throughout the city.

While the city will not ask employees to take pay cuts, talks have been initiated with labor unions to pause any pay raises, and hold employee salaries at the same rate they made under the 2020 budget. The city says it would save $15.6 million. City and labor union agreements are set to expire at the end of 2020. As part of a new deal, the city will look to re-negotiate active employee benefits and retiree health benefits, which could save around $4.8 million.

In order to avoid layoffs, the city is hoping to eliminate funding for 240 vacant civilian positions, which account for about 50 percent of current openings and $15.4 million.

The budget calls for the closure of two fire suppression companies, which cost around $3.6 million. Firefighters in those units would be reassigned to make up for other staffing shortages in the department to reduce overtime costs. No fire stations or firehouses however would close, just some vehicles would be taken out of service. Officials say the changes are necessary in order to not affect ambulance services, since they experience higher call volume.

Two units in the police department are expected to be affected by the budget proposal. Officers assigned to the horse and motorcycle units would be reassigned to fill more essential roles in the department such as patrol. Police horses and motorcycles will still be used on an as needed basis, just no longer full-time. Additionally, the departments helicopter unit would decrease flying time from 16-hours a day to 12. The changes would save around $3.4 million, according to the city.

In order to save about $800,000, the Department of Public Works would eliminate its graffiti removal squad, and reassign those workers to more critical functions.

Finally, the city would slash their rain day fund in half from a goal of $8 million to $4 million.

As for new investments, $1.4 million will be spent on two new Baltimore Community Intelligence Centers, with $10 million going towards IT infrastructure projects to minimize the risk of a service disruption after last years cyber attack. The Mayor’s budget also invests $42.1 million to grow the Housing Department’s community development framework, including demolition, home ownership incentives, and affordable housing.

The Feds are also expected to kick in $41.5 million, most of which will go toward school construction.

The budget proposal will now move to the City Council.