Cities seek 'fair share' from feds

USCM Status Report on Federal-Local Homeland Security Partnership

Since last September, America's cities have beefed up security at airports

and public facilities, conducted vulnerability assessments of potential

targets, implemented chemical and biological surveillance technology, and

improved communications and protective gear for their first responders.

But they have done so largely without help from either the Bush administration

or Congress.

That's according to a half dozen mayors who discussed their cities'

homeland security efforts as they spoke Sept. 9 during a Washington, D.C.,

press conference sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM).

The mayors said information sharing and the use of best practices is

greater among municipalities and the federal-local relationship is stronger

than before. However, they said such measures are only the beginning and

much more needs to be done. The mayors said their budgets are stretched

to their limits and, in some cases, they've had to raise taxes to pay for

security, including overtime pay for police, firefighters and paramedics.

One by one, the mayors demanded that federal officials live up to their

pledge of helping cities with such expenses.

"We're not asking the federal government to be creative," said Baltimore

Mayor Martin O'Malley. "We're asking the federal government to fund at least

a fair share for homeland defense, for common defense."

"We in cities are being asked to do more with less," said Philadelphia

Mayor John Street. "We feel today that we're being left behind and cities

are being taken advantage of."

In Akron, Ohio, which has a population of 220,000, the city has spent

about $2 million to secure public facilities, said Mayor Don Plusquellic.

But that figure may not include additional costs, such as overtime pay for

police.

Mayor Betty Flores of Laredo, Texas, said she has been asking the federal

government for the past two years to help improve border security near her

city. She recently raised property taxes by 4 percent to fund added security

measures, and she said many border and customs agents are leaving her city

for better pay and positions at other federal agencies, such as the Transportation

Security Administration.

Scott King, mayor of Gary, Ind., said assessments that U.S. cities are

more secure than a year ago are exaggerated. A report card would show a

"series of incompletes at best."

To help local law enforcement agencies, he called for full funding of

two federal grant programs: the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS)

program, which faces a proposed 80 percent cut in the fiscal 2003 budget,

and the Local Law Enforcement Block Grant, which faces a 23 percent proposed

reduction.

The mayors also called for direct federal funding to cities. Earlier

this year, President Bush proposed $3.5 billion to help bolster security,

of which 25 percent would be given to states and 75 percent would be earmarked

for first responders. However, national groups representing municipal officials

said they feared those earmarked funds would be chipped away by state governments

facing severe revenue shortfalls.

Many of the nation's cities are calling for homeland security block

grants, where the federal government would directly provide funds to municipalities.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) has proposed such a bill, which is supported

by several other senators.

O'Malley rattled off eight measures where the federal government could

help cities bolster security:

* Establish one federal watch list, instead of 58, that can be easily

accessed by authorized law enforcement officers from every governmental

level.

* Every metropolitan area should have intelligence units to coordinate

all policing actions.

* Every metropolitan area should have some type of bio-surveillance

technology.

* Every metropolitan area should perform vulnerability assessments of

critical infrastructures.

* Every metropolitan area should have mitigation strategies in case

of attack.

* Every metropolitan area should have updated emergency response plans.

* Every metropolitan area should have an interoperable and redundant

communications system.

* First responders should be properly equipped to handle two simultaneous

emergencies, and they and their families should be inoculated against biological

threats.

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