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Tidbits, but not much more, about budget overruns at city agencies

Police and fire departments running over budget. Specific figures not given at City Council hearing.

Above: Budget Director Andrew Kleine addresses a City Council budget hearing last night. Chairwoman Helen Hilton is seated at the right.

Want to know if Baltimore agencies are meeting – or exceeding – their current budgets?

Seeking answers for just this question, the City Council was without luck last night as Budget Director Andrew W. Kleine appeared before the budget committee with a lot of Powerpoint slides, but few specifics.

“This summary data doesn’t have much teeth,” complained committee chairwoman, Helen L. Holton. “We really want the detail and agency breakdown.”

After hearing Kleine repeat that he’d have to check on a figure or would discuss a matter privately with a councilman, the panel voted to recess the hearing.

The budget director was told to reappear with agency expenditures. He promised to do so.

$7 Million in Police Overtime

In the absence of hard data, Kleine offered some budgetary tidbits.

The Police Department, he said, has racked up a $7 million overtime deficit this year, which he described as a function of the number of vacancies in the department. Because the department is short-staffed, officers need to work longer hours.

In addition, there were unspecified “cost overruns” in the crime lab, while legal judgments and fees paid by the city were “running well above” budget projections.

Most of legal costs arose from citizen lawsuits against police for alleged misconduct. The city has made it a practice to settle police misconduct cases before they go to trial under the rationale that a jury may order substantially higher payments.

Last November, the budget office revealed that the city spent $10.4 million in the last three years defending the Baltimore Police Department against lawsuits, with 60% of the suits involving allegations of police using excessive force.

Fire Department Deficits

The Fire Department is also running a deficit in the 2012 budget, which ends June 30. Kleine said fleet rental and maintenance costs, as well as the cost of self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), are running higher than projected.

Last week, the Board of Estimates awarded a $3.25 million contract to German-based manufacturer Dräger to replace the department’s existing SCBA equipment.

Finally, Kleine told council members, his office was “surprised” that fees from ambulance companies – budgeted at $12.5 million for the first half of the year – are only $11 million. He said he is trying to determine why the fees appear to be low.

Some of the Council members at last night's hearing: (from left) William H. Cole IV, Bill Henry (speaking), Edward Reisinger, Nick Mosby, Sharon Green Middleton (back to the camera) and Warren Branch. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Some of the Council members at last night's hearing (from left): William H. Cole IV, Bill Henry, Edward Reisinger, Nick Mosby, Sharon Green Middleton (back to the camera) and Warren Branch. (Photo by Mark Reutter)

Deficit for 2013 Lowered

Overall, the city’s revenues for this fiscal year are running $100,000 below projections, with income, hotel and telecommunication taxes exceeding expectations and property taxes nearly $9 million below forecasts.

He said that the city’s projected deficit for the coming fiscal year, originally estimated at $52 million, is now projected at $48 million, but said it would rise steeply in fiscal 2015 to an estimated $124 million.

“We are nowhere near where we’d like to be,” he said, noting that underfunded employee health benefits and deferred capital projects are increasing, while property tax collections are projected to remain flat for the next three years.

Asked for specifics about the fire and police cost overruns after the hearing, Kleine said he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Committee members voted unanimously to recess the hearing and wait for agency cost figures from the budget office.

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