Baltimore City Council set to approve Youth Fund; Rawlings-Blake doesn't approve

Possible mayoral veto could threaten Baltimore 'Youth Fund.'

Baltimore's City Council is expected to approve a charter amendment championed by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young that would increase city funding for programs that cater to children and teens.

The 15-member City Council has overwhelmingly supported Young's "Youth Fund," which would earmark 3 percent of the city's discretionary spending for youth-focused initiatives. The measure must be approved by city voters to take effect and would result in about $30 million more for youth programming, such as privately run recreation centers and fitness activities.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the bill, up for a vote Tuesday, is fiscally irresponsible. Her spokesman, Howard Libit, said last week she remains opposed despite the council's unanimous support of Young's plan.

"We're not threatening vetoes at this point," Libit said. "We still hope the council will see that this is not the right decision for the long-term fiscal health of the city. All of us support putting resources to our youth, but locking up the budget for special interests hamstrings future mayors and councils and leaves the city unable to respond to unexpected financial needs."

The Rawlings-Blake administration says the city will spend $372 million on services for children and youths this year, which is 15 percent of the current operating budget. That amount is 4 percent more than the city spent last year.

If Rawlings-Blake vetoes the bill, the council will plan its first override of a mayoral veto in recent memory, said Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young. Rawlings-Blake has vetoed only four bills during her six years as mayor.

"This Youth Fund has overwhelming support from the council and overwhelming support from parents, teachers and children," Davis said "We understand [the administration has] concerns, but other cities have shown us: When you invest in young people, the only outcome is positive things for our children."

Davis said he hoped the mayor would join the council in supporting the bill.

"This could be a Young-Rawlings-Blake partnership for the children of Baltimore," Davis said.

Also Tuesday, the council is expected to give preliminary approval to a $17.5 million tax-increment-financing deal for the real estate firm developing the University of Maryland Baltimore BioPark. The subsidy for the roughly $110 million project is designed to help BioPark developer Wexford Science & Technology lure a branch of the Cambridge Innovation Center to Baltimore. The Massachusetts-based firm provides shared working space to startups and would lease about 40 percent of the 250,000-square- foot building.

Additionally, the council is slated to approve $533,000 to hire additional crime scene analysts to bolster the Police Department's forensics lab and give the city's civilian review board more staffing to investigate police misconduct complaints.

The crime lab — which will receive a projected 15,000 requests this year to investigate homicides, burglaries and other crimes — would use $347,000 to buy new equipment and add eight technicians to a team of 28. They would also bring on two more lab supervisors, giving them a total of five.

Another $186,000 would be spent to give the civilian review board a mediator, a community liaison and an additional investigator.

City Councilman Carl Stokes, chairman of the economic development committee, said he would only allow the proposed subsidy to move forward Tuesday if the developer and surrounding communities signed a "community benefits agreement."

The agreement establishes a more than $1 million community fund that would grow each year and help with parking problems, development of Hollins Market and job creation, among other community concerns.

"I said to all parties that I would not move the bill out of committee unless there is a community benefits agreement signed by all of the communities around the project," Stokes said. "In fact, everyone did come together and negotiate an agreement."

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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