King Saud of Baltimore

King Saud of Baltimore

Many have commented on Mayor O’Malley’s ambitions, but hitherto these have been thought to center on Washington, not Riyadh. It now is apparent, however, that the Mayor relishes his role as a minor-league energy czar, the commander-in-chief of an almost unique chain of a dozen municipal filling stations.

A word of explanation is in order. In 2000, the Calvert Institute published a study of Baltimore City government, “A Contrast to Regionalism: Reversing Baltimore’s decline through Neighborhood Enterprise and Municipal Discipline”, found on the Web at http://www.calvertinstitute.org/main/pub_detail.php?pub_id=142. The study noted Baltimore’s continued reliance on municipal employees for such things as the operation of recreation services, performed by volunteers in the counties, the operation of printing and copying facilities, and the maintenance of its unique chain of filling stations. The report noted in passing that not only were these stations inconvenient for the police and fire vehicles that had to by-pass ordinary filling stations in order to use them, but they also exposed the City to contingent liabilities, then estimated at $2 million, for leakage and spills that would not be the City’s responsibility if this adventure in municipal socialism were ended. See G. Shields, “Fuel Tank Problems Could Cost $250,000″, Baltimore Sun, January 21, 1999,3D; G. Shields, “City to Pay Fine for Not Fixing Gasoline Tanks”, Baltimore Sun, March 18, 1999,3B.

With the coming of the O’Malley administration, the Greater Baltimore Committee was asked to render a report on streamlining of city government. It made numerous recommendations. Recommendation 6A, for example, noted that “In Baltimore County, approximately 50,000 unpaid community volunteers donate over 500,000 hours of time to support local [recreational] planning. In contrast, the City’s Department reported only 885 registered volunteers in FY 1999. Additionally, local recreation councils generate over $8.2 million to augment Baltimore County’s budget allocation for recreation and parks activities.” The GBC’s recommendation that additional facilities in communities should be conditioned on community volunteer support was flatly rejected by the O’Malley administration.

The GBC as its Recommendation 2F, apropos of the municipal gas station empire, suggested “The use of centralized fueling stations, fuel cards and other options must be evaluated and an implementation plan must be developed to insure a smooth transition…It is extremely expensive to maintain and operate the City’s network of fueling sites. If the fuel card can displace a few sites, significant savings can be achieved.” Six years on, where are we? The current Baltimore City Budget, at page 471, provides for the continued operation of “ten automated fuel dispensing stations.” Its personnel detail, at page 497, continues to provide for 10 persons in the position of “Storekeeper II”, for whose salaries it appropriates $303,042. Of the costs of various forms of “leakage”, we are told nothing, nor of the time wasted by police and firemen searching out remote municipal frilling stations rather than nearby private ones.. The Sun has not shone on this question.

Posted in: Economic Regulation, News Series