The Baltimore City Council’s budget committee on Monday unanimously rejected a request to transfer $21 million to cover police overtime spending that ran over-budget last year — a move seen as a statement by city lawmakers on the overtime issue.
“This is a clear message that the status quo is not going to work anymore,” said City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the council’s public safety committee.
The vote is largely symbolic because the Baltimore Police Department has already spent the money, according to the budget office. But the vote to reject the transfer — a request that is usually considered automatic — means the city’s financial books will not be reconciled for the previous fiscal year.
The Police Department spent $47.2 million on overtime in the fiscal year that ended June 30, even though only $16 million was budgeted.
“The Police Department’s spending continues to exceed what the department has been appropriated, and at this point it’s clear we need to help the department rein in their overtime spending,” said Councilman Eric T. Costello, chairman of the budget committee.
The budget for the new fiscal year allocates $20 million for police overtime. Henry Raymond, the city’s finance director, has said he expects the Police Department to live within its means.
One problem contributing to the high overtime spending is a shortage of patrol officers. Baltimore budget director Bob Cenname said the Police Department’s patrol schedule, a subject of current negotiations with the police union, is unworkable.
“A lot of the overtime is driven by the patrol schedule,” Cenname said. “All parties acknowledge the schedule is just not working.”
Even so, Cenname said he hopes to see improvement from police brass in monitoring of overtime costs.
“The department, I think, has made some progress on better oversight,” he said. “There’s still a lot more progress that needs to be made. … I think we’re moving in the right direction.”
The committee vote comes as leaders on the City Council have announced monthly accountability meetings about the police department, focusing on both the agency’s budget and its crime-fighting strategies.
The city law department also is auditing the Police Department’s overtime, but has yet to make the results of the audit public. Baltimore’s city solicitor has said that audit is continuing and cannot be released until it is introduced into evidence as part of a federal lawsuit.
In another matter, some council members expressed concern over the scaled-down nature of August’s African-American festival. The AFRAM Festival, Baltimore’s annual celebration of African-American culture, will return to Druid Hill Park this year.
Before last year’s festival, AFRAM was held over two days at the parking lots by Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.
Known for attracting crowds as large as 200,000 in the past, the event was scaled down in 2017 to one day at Druid Hill Park as a cost-saving measure, Mayor Catherine Pugh said last year. The festival drew 3,000 to 4,000 attendees. This year it will return to two days, but still be at Druid Hill.
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"A festival that had 100,000 people per day, we're now expecting 20,000 a day," Scott asked Monday. "Why does this festival have to be smaller? … It’s the black people that are getting the short end of the stick.”