High alert status costs cities

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

With the terror alert high and war raging in Iraq, U.S. 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 March 27. 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. Since Sept. 11, 2001, those cities have been spending, as a group, more than $21.4 million per week on top of what they were already spending for homeland security, according to the survey.

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 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.

John Cohen, a homeland security expert who advises the city of Detroit and the states of Arizona and Massachusetts, said cities have a legitimate concern because they can't do it alone. They're afraid state governments will not fairly distribute such funds, he said, adding that a direct funding mechanism can be modeled after other federal intiatives.

But more importantly, he stressed, there needs to be greater cooperation and coordination between state and local governments in devising a coherent plan to assess vulnerabilities and determine priorites.

"So for this to work you have to have leadership and vision coming from state government and you have to also have at the table local, county leaders," said Cohen, a former law enforcement officer and president of Rockville, Md.-based PSComm LLC. "And everyone sort of has to buy in on this final plan and then you fund based on the plan."

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 the terrorist attacks, 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.

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