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Baltimore Council’s American Rescue Plan oversight bill will become law without mayor’s signature

A bill passed unanimously by Baltimore City Council requiring additional reporting on American Rescue Plan spending will become law without Mayor Brandon Scott’s signature.

The bill, sponsored by Council President Nick Mosby, requires Baltimore officials to provide reports to the council on a monthly, quarterly and annual basis about how the city spends its $641 million allocation in federal coronavirus funding.

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Scott, who has the ultimate authority over the spending, announced Monday that he would not sign the bill. Monday was the deadline for the mayor to decide whether to sign, veto or take no action on the bill that the City Council passed in early November.

During City Council’s hearing on the legislation, Scott’s administration pushed back on the requirements, arguing that monthly reporting would be labor-intensive for staff and “not meaningful” for such short periods of time. The mayor agreed voluntarily, however, to provide quarterly updates on the spending to the City Council.

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Council’s Ways and Means Committee rejected several amendments proposed by Scott’s administration. The bill was then fast tracked for final passage Nov. 1, meaning two votes were taken on the same night.

Scott informed Mosby of his decision Monday via a letter, noting the city’s legal department felt the bill violated the city’s charter.

“While well-intended and temporary in nature, the legislation conflicts with the city charter and includes vague language that will make it difficult to ensure comprehensive and reliable compliance with the reporting requirements,” Scott wrote in the letter obtained by The Baltimore Sun.

Scott added that it always has been his intention to keep the City Council and the public abreast of spending decisions related to the American Rescue Plan funding and said he is “happy to be held accountable.”

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The monthly reports required by the legislation must include data about how the funds have increased the effectiveness and “broadened the reach” of city government services. Data also has been requested about how the spending has made government more efficient and sustainable.

The legislation also requires monthly reporting based on metrics including equity, population growth, labor and employment, and the growth of women- and minority-owned businesses.

In a statement, Mosby said the legislation will help city leaders “show our residents that this relief aid was a game-changer for our city.”

“It is our job to ensure this money is invested in our residents and future, not just spent on temporary solutions,” he said.

Baltimore officials are still in the midst of deciding how to spend the $641 million allocated to the city by the American Rescue plan, however several large allocations were made as the oversight bill languished in the mayor’s hopper.

A $55 million allocation to fund workforce development and economic recovery programs was announced in November, as was another $35 million will be given to the Mayor’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity to expand public internet access inside and outside city recreation centers, among other projects.

Scott said during a meeting last week with The Baltimore’s Sun editorial board that another $100 million will be dedicated to housing issues in the city in hopes of promoting investment and attracting homeowners, although the breakdown of that funding has yet to be publicly announced.

Several other major allocations were announced ahead of the passage of council’s oversight bill: $80 million for COVID-19 testing and prevention efforts and $50 million for violence reduction projects. An additional $141 million has been set aside to balance upcoming city budgets, hit hard by pandemic-related costs.

Altogether, nearly three-quarters of the funding has been dedicated thus far and applications are still outstanding from city nonprofits. The window for nonprofits to apply closed at the end of 2021.

Mosby has proposed spending $200 million of the ARP funding on a series of housing measures that would include reviving Baltimore’s dollar house program in areas of the city hardest hit by historical redlining. Scott would have to agree to sign off on the spending were the legislation to pass City Council. Thus far, only one council meeting has been held to discuss the proposal.

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