After considerable back and forth, The Baltimore City Council this week gave final approval to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s original $2.3 million budget proposal. The budget, which closes a $48 million shortfall, includes plans to close several city rec centers and three fire stations.
City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is calling the plan “a loss for the people of Baltimore,” according to The Baltimore Sun.
Just a few days earlier, the council had seemed likely to endorse budget amendments more in line with Young’s “Plan For Better Baltimore“(pdf). The plan prioritized maintaining operations at rec centers and fire companies, and provided funding for summer youth jobs and after school programs. An op-ed in The Sun praised Young’s plan, saying “it makes for a better budget” than the mayor’s proposal and estimating that at least 2,500 had officially supported it.
The proposal had seemed headed toward approval after the council’s Committee of the Whole passed most of its provisions on June 18th. The committee also shaved down the mayor’s budget by about $6 million, The Sun reported, by cutting vacant positions and trimming operations of the city’s finance and law departments, among other changes.
Four days later, though, the council suddenly shifted gears, discarding Young’s plan and passing the mayor’s original budget proposal instead. After the council meeting that day, Young told The Sun: “A vote against the amended budget is a vote against our kids.” He later suggested that that Rawlings-Blake had offered perks to council members to win their support, which the Mayor’s office has denied.
The council made its final budget vote on June 25, approving the mayor’s budget on a 9-6 vote after Council member Mary Pat Clarke failed in a last-ditch attempt to tack on some amendments, according to The North Baltimore Patch.
The mayor’s budget, which closes a $48 million shortfall, calls for closing four rec centers, and possibly ten others, by the end of summer in order to create a smaller network of higher-quality centers, The Sun reported. While some of those centers are in terrible condition and need to be closed, many youth advocates have rallied against that plan, which would turn over 25 rec centers to the school system or private developers. The budget will also disband three city fire companies next week, according to ABC News.
The Sun has criticized the council for reversing course on Young’s “Better Baltimore” proposal. A June 22 editorial commends Young for believing “the city’s legislative body might actually live up to its role as a co-equal branch of government and exercise some influence in how Baltimore will spend $2.3 billion in the next fiscal year.”