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Baltimore City Council must prepare to assert more control over budget | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby leading a virtual meeting in March. (Handout/Baltimore Sun).
Baltimore City Council President Nick Mosby leading a virtual meeting in March. (Handout/Baltimore Sun).

Last November, Baltimore voters approved a city charter amendment that gives the Baltimore City Council its first-ever power to make budget cuts count. As of budget time next year and thereafter, members will have the power to transfer and assign funding cuts to other budgetary services and safety needs within the police department or other city agencies. No more limbos for cuts of strategic intent.

Until then, this is the final year in which the City Council’s funding cuts cannot be transferred to alternative uses except with the approval of the Board of Estimates, a rare occurrence. Council’s cuts from the current budget, for example, were apparently just held in reserve. Council’s intent was to provide support for underfunded agencies, like Recreation and Parks, whose work addresses root causes of crime and violence.

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This year, my hope is that Mayor Brandon Scott will revise his preliminary budget just unveiled to reflect the very public safety progress he has always supported. In the meanwhile, however, we should act now to ensure that the budget plan for next year is thoroughly vetted in advance by the mayor, city agencies, City Council and the public. Inclusive negotiating must begin now, even as the upcoming budget is reviewed and debated (”Baltimore police spending: the intersection of politics and pragmatism,” April 22).

Once City Council is able to assign its cuts to alternative uses, city government may need to create new divisions, departments or partnerships in the coming year to accommodate such changes by July 1, 2022.

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A consensus between Mayor Scott and a City Council may mean, for example, creation of a 24/7 mental health response unit or could require existing agencies like Recreation and Parks to create a new division for expanded outreach to at-risk youth. Whatever the consensus plan, it must be determined soon enough to allow meaningful public input and a year’s lead time to put consensus elements and funding in place. Let’s all work together to make our charter votes count!

Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore

The writer, a Democrat, represented the 14th district on the Baltimore City Council retiring from office last December.

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