Baltimore to use $21 million in excess tax revenue to pay for police OT that ran over budget

Baltimore officials on Wednesday approved the use of $21 million in excess tax revenue to pay for police overtime that surpassed the city’s budget.

The Board of Estimates, which is controlled by Mayor Catherine Pugh, voted to use tax revenue that came in over budget to balance the police department’s spending. The city brought in $11 million more than anticipated from transfer taxes and $10 million more from recordation taxes.

The spending decision still requires approval by the City Council.

The police department ran well over its $16 million budget for overtime pay for the fiscal year that ends June 30. In March, Baltimore’s budget director said the police department had spent more than $36 million on overtime during the fiscal year. A final overtime tally won’t be known until the fiscal year ends.

Pugh said Wednesday that the overtime spending was a result of having too few officers in the police department — a gap that could take between three and five years to fill — and that residents were clamoring for more police on the street.

“There is a shortage of police officers in Baltimore City,” Pugh said.

For years, the police department has run millions over budget on overtime spending. But finance officials typically use conservative estimates to project the next year’s tax revenue and then use the excess funds to cover the overtime pay.

Next year’s budget earmarks $20 million for police overtime. Baltimore finance director Henry Raymond said he was expecting the police department to live within its means.

The city law department is currently auditing the police department’s overtime as part of a lawsuit and a federal civil rights decree that requires the agency to study its staffing.

About a dozen affordable housing advocates protested in the Board of Estimates room after the panel voted to approve the spending. They said it was wrong to use excess tax revenue to cover excessive overtime spending instead of helping people find affordable homes.

“When it comes to people’s needs they don’t have the money and then they sneak in $20 million,” said Todd Cherkis, one of the protesters. “That’s thousands of homes rebuilt, that’s 9,000 jobs created in this city washed away with a quick vote.”

The City Council, with the support of its president, is considering legislation that would increase the recordation and transfer taxes to create a dedicated stream of money for affordable housing.

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