City fared well in Assembly session

Total of $908 million from state, but cuts from Ehrlich possible

`Very much in defensive posture'

April 15, 2003|By Tom Pelton | Tom Pelton,SUN STAFF

Despite a bleak fiscal environment, the state was fairly generous to Baltimore during the most recent legislative session -- providing $789,000 to pay for a "war room" to help prosecutors target violent repeat offenders, as well as more money for playgrounds and drug treatment.

And although city officials feared that the state would kill a successful tax credit program that encourages the renovation of old buildings, the state preserved it but imposed a limit on the payouts, Mayor Martin O'Malley told the City Council during a briefing yesterday.

But O'Malley cautioned that the news wasn't all good: The state eliminated $4 million from a program to give raises to teachers, and clipped $1.8 million for highway repaving.

More painful cuts could follow in the next few weeks if Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. follows through on threats to veto a tax increase to close a budget gap, O'Malley said.

"We were very much in a defensive posture down there [in Annapolis], and our legislators covered us as best they could," the mayor said.

Overall, the city has fared better than some had feared. Next fiscal year, the city is set to receive 1.9 percent, or $17 million, more in state aid than this year, for a total of $908 million.

Recreation and parks will obtain up to $2 million more from the state to replace up to 20 playgrounds, said Kimberley A. Flowers, interim parks director.

The state set aside $789,000 to help create a "war room" in the Central Booking and Intake Center.

When that facility opens about July 1 in a conference room with five computers, the money will pay for as many as four prosecutors, plus court commissioners and state probation agents.

The employees will closely monitor violent felons who are out on probation or parole, and recommend that they be put back behind bars if they fail to attend meetings with probation agents, or break even minor laws, said Kristen Mahoney, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice.

The state's attorney's office applied for the funds after the arson fire that killed Angela Dawson and her family in the fall.

The man accused of setting the fire, Darrell L. Brooks, could have been jailed months earlier because he never reported to his probation agent for earlier crimes, state officials said.

A spokeswoman for State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy warned yesterday that the agency might not be able to follow through with plans for the war room because of a $700,000 budget gap that will require layoffs of nine gun prosecutors by June 30.

Jessamy "will not move ahead with the war room project until she gets a pledge of more funding for gun prosecutors," said spokeswoman Margaret T. Burns.

But a spokeswoman for O'Malley, Raquel Guillory, said that Jessamy has no choice but to move forward with the project because the state made the grant to create the facility.

Among other state funding increases to the city for next year are: $1 million for drug treatment; $9 million for economic development projects, including one on the west side of downtown; and about $2 million for lead paint removal programs.

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