O'Malley asks U.S. for security money

Cash-strapped city faces big tab after Sept. 11 spurred increased effort

War On Terrorism

The Nation

October 26, 2001|By Gady A. Epstein | Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - With Baltimore and cities around the country running up millions of dollars in expenses from beefed-up security since Sept. 11, Mayor Martin O'Malley went to Capitol Hill yesterday to ask for help with paying the bill.

In testimony before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee led by Democratic Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland, O'Malley called for the creation of a federal program, "Homeland Defense Block Grants," that would help Baltimore and hundreds of other cities and counties boost security and preparedness.

He offered a bleak assessment of the city's security-related spending, saying it could exceed $14 million this year. He characterized federal help as a virtual necessity, comparing it to financial support of the military in Afghanistan.

"Block grants should be provided directly to cities and urban counties, which are the primary targets on the home front of our war against terrorism," O'Malley told the subcommittee, which oversees funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "We cannot long sustain a war on these two fronts if we are only willing to fund one of them."

Three other mayors from Oklahoma, Nevada and Texas - in town for a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors on homeland security - echoed O'Malley's request for money, describing similar expenses in their cities. Mikulski expressed support for more funding but wariness about creating federal programs.

"I think we need to fund existing programs," she said. "And then [see] where do we need money."

The four mayors' testimony was one small plea in a national stampede for dollars by federal, state and local government agencies and by private industries hit hard by Sept. 11. Local governments' biggest cost has been extra police staffing, which has cost Baltimore more than $2 million and which O'Malley said might cost nearly $9 million more this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

He asked senators to help cities keep some of those costs down by requiring that private interests, such as chemical companies and the railroad business CSX Corp., secure their properties adequately, arguing that his police forces are forced to guard numerous private facilities: "This cannot continue without eventually bankrupting and harming our cities."

O'Malley, conscious of the multitude of requests before Congress, said a week ago that he didn't "hold out much hope" that the federal government would help cities reimburse costs like police overtime. But he said yesterday that he felt more optimistic after hearing that many other mayors were facing the same financial woes.

"I really do think there's a growing realization that this war is being fought on two fronts," O'Malley said, a notion he also emphasized in testimony before a House subcommittee earlier this month. "It's sinking in [on Capitol Hill] that this front does have a price tag to it."

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