Mayors call for homeland funding

U.S. Conference of Mayors

Calling it a "golden moment of opportunity," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley urged fellow mayors and first responders nationwide to lobby the federal government for direct funding to cities for better equipment, technology and training.

"So our message is we need direct funding now for first responders — fire, police" and emergency medical personnel, O'Malley said March 21. Mayors and other local officials shouldn't be timid in voicing their concerns and trying to influence how Congress allocates funds, he said.

The message came during a live 50-minute Webcast broadcast by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a nonpartisan advocacy group representing cities with populations of more than 30,000.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, cities have requested federal assistance to pay for overtime for first responders and better gear, equipment, drills, new technologies and communications systems.

Tom Cochran, executive director of the conference, and O'Malley, who was recently named chairman of the group's homeland security task force, said it is important to send a message to Washington, D.C., now for new first responder funding because President Bush was expected to ask Congress for supplemental appropriations of up to $100 billion to fight the war in Iraq.

They said they were encouraged by recent statements by both Bush and Homeland Security Department Secretary Tom Ridge expressing their disappointment with first-responder spending levels in the 2003 budget.

In that budget, $3.5 billion was allocated for firefighters, police, and emergency medical and other personnel, but several organizations have said that not even a third of the funds were new.

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