Baltimore voters approve youth fund, all other ballot questions

Baltimoreans voted to establish an $11 million youth fund.

In addition to electing new leaders, Baltimoreans voted Tuesday to require that city officials set aside millions of tax dollars each year for youth activities and programs.

The charter amendment for the Children and Youth Fund made the ballot after the City Council unanimously overrode Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's veto of the legislation, which commits the city to spending more than $11 million per year.

Rawlings-Blake has said the program would be fiscally irresponsible and would tie the hands of future mayors, who she said could be forced to cut core services in tight budget years to fully fund the account.

Voters also approved the issuance of bonds for school construction, park and library maintenance, and economic development; the establishment of outdoor eating stands at the Inner Harbor's Rash Field and West Shore Park; the creation of an affordable-housing trust fund; and more frequent audits of city agencies.

All 10 of the charter amendments and bond issuances passed. Voters usually approve ballot questions, unless there is fierce opposition.

The Children and Youth Fund amendment dedicates revenue representing 3 cents of every $100 of Baltimore's assessable property to the fund each year. The assessable base was most recently estimated at almost $38 billion, so the youth fund is expected to get $11.4 million next year. That is on top of the nearly $375 million the city already spends on schools, prekindergarten, after-school programs, libraries and youth health services.

The Affordable Housing Trust Fund creates a dedicated fund that was proposed by housing advocates. Unlike the youth fund, this charter amendment doesn't require money to flow into the fund; advocates will have to persuade officials to put money in it. Money in the account would be used to build and maintain homes that extremely low-income residents can afford.

Voters also approved increasing the frequency of city agency audits to every two years instead of every four. Also, three agencies not previously required to undergo an audit will be audited. The audits will be overseen by the city comptroller's office instead of the mayor's office of finance, a move intended to give auditors greater independence.

Voters also approved borrowing $6 million for housing programs, $34 million for school construction and renovation, $45 million for economic development programs, and $45 million for parks and recreation and library facilities.

The other three charter amendments will allow for the outdoor cafes at the Inner Harbor, award more contracts to small and disadvantaged businesses to spur economic growth and correct an outdated reference in the charter.

cmcampbell@baltsun.com

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