- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

D.C. Council members say a budget deficit is imminent if city agencies don't get spending under control.
The District is looking at a deficit of $180 million this year if nine city agencies continue to spend at current rates, according to council members who have called for a special Thursday hearing to deal with the problem.
Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp said this is the first time the entire council has convened to discuss budget spending.
"I don't know of a time when the Committee of the Whole has come together to look at the budgets of agencies," said Mrs. Cropp, at-large Democrat. "This hearing is to look at the budget pressures and examine the causes and possible solutions to the overspending."
She said normally the various council committees will hold hearings on the budgets of agencies they oversee.
Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, said he is concerned by Mayor Anthony A. Williams' reaction to the overspending. He said if the trend continues, the city could see the same results as the budgets in 1992 and 1993 that foreshadowed the control board.
The mayor's reaction, Mr. Evans said, is to base the 2003 budget on the overspending, increasing the budgets of agencies by what they overspent. "This sends a message that if you overspend, you get more money … so, who's not going to overspend in that case?" he said.
Mr. Evans said Mr. Williams' idea is to spend all $50 million of the tobacco settlement, stop the $98 million tax relief and cut municipal services by $32 million to cover the overspending.
But officials in Mr. Williams' office said the mayor has not made all of his decisions final.
"We are facing a budget gap in 2003. What's needed is for the council and the mayor to make some tough decisions not finger pointing," said Tony Bullock, spokesman for Mr. Williams.
"Comparatively speaking, though, with other states and cities in the country, we have a very manageable problem."
Mr. Williams will present his fiscal 2003 budget to the council on March 18.
Mr. Evans did say the city was in better shape with a 7 percent annual revenue growth rate. But the budget is growing by 10.1 percent annually, he said.
The nine agencies with budget problems, and the projected costs of their overruns by Sept. 30:
D.C. Public Schools, $79 million
Mental Health, $25 million
Child and Family Services, $25 million
Department of Health, $13 million
Human Services, $13 million
Corrections, $11 million
Fire and Emergency Medical Services, $8 million
Metropolitan Police Department, $6 million
Public Works, $1 million
Mrs. Cropp said she expects all but three of the agencies to balance their budgets by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. But at least three will be in the red by the end of the year.
"We will have two or three agencies that will not have a balanced budget, leading to bigger budget problems next year," Mrs. Cropp said.
D.C. schools had cost overruns in 2001, Mrs. Cropp said, and some of those expenses rolled over into 2002.
"We have seen that special education is a major problem with the schools, but I don't think it is the whole problem," Mrs. Cropp said.


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