Mayors call for direct funding

U.S. Conference of Mayors Survey on Cities' Direct Homeland Security Cost Increases

With the terror alert high and war raging in Iraq, American cities are spending about $70 million weekly on additional homeland security measures, according to projections based on a new U.S. Conference of Mayors survey.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley called on the federal government to share the costs of homeland security and provide direct funds to municipalities rather than funnel them through state governments.

"There's clearly a federal role here, folks," he said at a Washington, D.C., press conference today. He said cities aren't asking the federal government to "pay for year-round maintenance, training, recruitment, deployment" of first responders, but he added that America's cities shouldn't shoulder the burden themselves.

The national conference, which represents cities with populations of 30,000 or more, surveyed 145 politically and geographically diverse cities ranging in population from 21,000 to 8 million. As a group, those cities have been spending — since Sept. 11, 2001 — more than $21.4 million per week on top of what they were already spending for homeland security, according to the conference.

O'Malley did say the funds are "very subjective," but said mayors are ready to defend the numbers. New York City officials estimate spending about $5 million weekly, while San Francisco officials say the city spends about $2.6 million a week.

The expenditures are direct costs, mostly for overtime pay, O'Malley said, and don't account for the extensive equipment and training needs.

The findings come at the heels of a supplemental budget request by President Bush for nearly $75 billion for the war, including $2 billion for state and local preparedness. O'Malley, who heads the conference's homeland security task force, said that's "simply insufficient."

He's not alone in that sentiment.

On March 26, the National League of Cities and four other national associations representing local and state interests sent a letter to Senate and House leaders asking for $9 billion in supplemental spending for homeland security.

O'Malley said that since Sept. 11, 2001, most cities have not received direct financial assistance. He said federal money sent via the state governments languishes at that level or is partially consumed. He said that although cities don't mind getting money from states, "history has shown dollars sent to states are a long, long time in coming." Many state governments are facing fiscal crises of their own, dealing with massive budget shortfalls.

As an example, he said Maryland last year received about $16 million in funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for bioterrorism planning, but Baltimore, the state's largest city, received only 2.7 percent of those funds.

He said North Dakota, which has the same population as Baltimore, received $6.4 million. While he cautioned that he didn't begrudge North Dakota's funds, he said the "formulas are all out of whack."

Since the fall of 2001, cities have persistently asked for direct funds from the federal government, but governors and federal officials have said that money can be spent better, more evenly and more efficiently if it is channeled through the states.

O'Malley said cities do receive direct housing and law enforcement grants from the federal government. "This is different," he said. "This is not impossible."

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