Officials' travel expenses decline

City Council effort to seek further cuts abandoned

November 12, 2008|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,annie.linskey@baltsun.com

City Council members looking for cost savings by scouring Baltimore's travel budget abandoned the effort this week after learning that the city was already spending 25 percent less than a year ago.

City Council budget chairman Bernard C. "Jack" Young and five other council members asked for a report on how much money could be saved by curtailing taxpayer-funded trips. The request came after Mayor Sheila Dixon cut $36.5 million from this year's budget to address a shortfall.

"An absolute ban on out-of-state travel would generate minimal savings over and above the current budget freeze and could have unintended negative impacts on city operations," wrote Deputy Budget Directory Andrew W. Kleine in a memo to council members.

The report showed that the city spent $454,489 from the general fund for travel last year. This year, the city budgeted $339,489 for trips. Kleine noted that all travel requests have been frozen, with exceptions made on a case-by-case basis. Employees have spent $66,535 this year.

Young was so pleased with Kleine's report that he cut his hearing short. It lasted 41 seconds Monday night.

"You've already taken steps to look at out-of-state travel," Young said. "This will end this hearing."

The hearing, and the resolution calling for it, was somewhat controversial among the usually clubby City Council members. Councilman Robert W. Curran said sending employees to training courses and conferences around the country yields dividends.

"You have to look at the long-term outcomes," he said.

Travel costs attracted attention recently when the mayor, the city's health commissioner and two other staff members took a $17,000 trip to Egypt last month to visit a sister city. It was Dixon's first international trip as mayor.

Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who oversees the country's eighth-largest police department, recently traveled to San Diego for a five-day conference of police chiefs, at a cost of $2,132.24.

"We have a good record of borrowing and examining good ideas from other jurisdictions," said Sterling Clifford, a Police Department spokesman, noting that in some neighborhoods the city has adopted Chicago's approach of treating homicide like a public health epidemic.

The Police Department is also moving toward Boston's model of sharing the burden of policing nightclubs and bars with the establishments' owners, he said.

The city's top prosector, State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy, will spend $1,012.50 to attend the National District Attorney Association meeting in Santa Fe, N.M., at the end of the month.

Council members also tour the country. Councilman William H. Cole IV, who co-sponsored the resolution inquiring about a travel budget freeze, received $889.29 from the city for an October trip to Portland, Ore., to study that city's public transportation system. He said he took the trip before the city's financial woes became clear.

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