City Council to release funds to 3 departments

March 20, 2001|By Neal Thompson | Neal Thompson,SUN STAFF

Eight months ago, the Baltimore City Council tried a new tactic to hold three city agencies accountable for improvements: It withheld $800,000 from their budgets and told the agencies to shape up before they got the funds.

Last night, the council voted to restore the money, saying that some improvements had been made and others were in the works.

"We believe that the agencies have come a long way in meeting our challenge," City Council President Sheila Dixon said in a memo to council members, asking them to support the release of funds.

The three agencies are the Police Department, the Department of Public Works and the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Specifically, council wanted police to respond more quickly to citizen complaints called into its 311 nonemergency system and for DPW to improve neighborhood trash pickup. The council also wanted HCD to conduct more housing inspections and improve operation of its Neighborhood Service Centers.

At a budget hearing last month, representatives from each department described steps being taken toward those goals. Mayor Martin O'Malley's plan to replace nine Neighborhood Service Centers with six Human Service Centers seemed to satisfy council members, as did DPW's efforts to increase the tonnage of waste collected, improve alley and street cleaning, hand out more citations and cut back on overtime costs.

Dixon said last night that the Police Department still needed to reorganize and improve its 311 system, but that continuing to withhold funds would do more harm than good.

The Board of Estimates is expected to approve the release of the funds at its weekly meeting tomorrow.

While the amount withheld for the past eight months was minuscule compared to an overall budget of $1.9 billion "a lot of good came of it," Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. said. "It's making them a lot more responsible."

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