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Pugh budget would ground police helicopter, make cuts at youth curfew centers

When Mayor Catherine Pugh announced her first budget proposal in March, highlights of the $2.8 billion spending plan included millions in increased funding for schools and police, the return of speed cameras, refinancing the city-owned Hilton Hotel and a modest tax cut for homeowners.

But newly released agency-level details have revealed other notable plans:

The budget would ground one of the police department's four Foxtrot helicopters, saving about $1 million. The proposal abolishes six aviation unit positions: three police officers, two flight officers and one police sergeant.

The mayor would cut services at the city's two youth curfew centers, saving about $70,000. Former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake planned in 2015 to expand the centers during summer months from two facilities to nine to keep youths off the streets at night. Officials say Pugh is changing the centers' mission to an "outreach initiative" to connect youth to "social, educational, recreation and employment opportunities."

As the city opened its two curfew centers for the summer on Friday, Pugh said she was committed to funding the programs.

"We're going to fund the centers, whether that's privately or publicly," she said. "We think that this is very important."

The budget proposes 17 new positions to assist with the Department of Justice monitoring of Baltimore's Police Department as part the consent decree process. The positions include six auditors, five compliance managers, three policy analysts and three community liaisons. Additionally, the budget would allocate $1.45 million for an independent monitor and $220,000 for police to travel to other cities to learn about reform efforts. These costs total more than $3.4 million.

Pugh's budget proposes new positions to administer police body cameras at a cost of $430,000. It would also fund three law clerk positions to handle Maryland Public Information Act requests related to the cameras.

The mayor would increase funding for auditing by Comptroller Joan Pratt's office by $646,000. The money will pay for three new auditors, expanding the audits office to 47. The office is required to perform financial and performance audits of 16 city agencies every two years.

Pugh has authorized $100,000 for the City Council to hire its own fiscal analyst at the request of Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young.

The budget would increase funding for some of the city government's highest taxpayer-funded salaries. At the promotional organization Visit Baltimore, the CEO is to receive more than $332,000 in compensation and six vice presidents are to receive more than $1 million combined. State law mandates that Visit Baltimore receive 40 percent of the city's hotel tax revenue, meaning the organization automatically gets more than $14 million next year.

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