- The Washington Times - Friday, March 23, 2007

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday outlined his first budget, a $9.8 billion spending proposal that increases student funding and places more police officers on city streets.

Mr. Fenty’s plan is a 6.7 percent increase from last year’s approved $9.1 billion budget. The budget includes $5.7 billion in local funding and does not raise taxes.

Officials said the increase is due in part to paying debt service and to health care costs but still praised what will be the District’s 11th straight balanced budget if it is approved by the D.C. Council and Congress.

“This would be an excellent signal to send to Wall Street,” Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi said at a press conference yesterday. “Overall, the economic condition of the District looks very good.”

Mr. Fenty’s proposal boosts the public education budget in the District by 4.2 percent to roughly $1.25 billion. That figure includes an increase in per-pupil funding of about 4 percent, or roughly $300 for students in public and public charter schools.

The council is scheduled to preliminarily vote on Mr. Fenty’s proposed mayoral takeover of the public school system on April 3, and the mayor said his budget proposal would support the implementation of his schools reform plan.

“We have put our money where our mouth is,” Mr. Fenty said.

Mr. Fenty also proposed increasing public safety funding in the District by 8 percent, including $470 million for the Metropolitan Police Department — a nearly $50 million boost that will phase in 82 new civilian positions and allow 300 additional officers to be deployed on city streets.

The Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department is slated for a $12 million increase, to $181 million.

Some of Mr. Fenty’s proposals were met with skepticism.

For example, departments charged with procurement and human resources responsibilities largely would be funded by billing other government agencies for their services instead of through the budget.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray said such a switch is “fraught with potential problems” because some city agencies might decide simply not to pay others, but Mr. Fenty said the new procedures will promote better accountability and transparency.

“We agree with Chairman Gray if handled incorrectly there could be problems,” Mr. Fenty said. But “if we keep a very close watch on it, it will improve procurement and personnel.”

Another potentially unpopular proposal by Mr. Fenty — who said he also hopes to cut the residential property tax by 2 cents — is to raise the District’s Emergency 911 phone call fee from 76 cents to $1.55. The monthly fee is charged to each person with a phone line in the District, officials said.

Fenty officials said the fee increase is minimal compared with surrounding areas such as Fairfax County and Alexandria, which they said charge as much as $3.

But Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, called the new amount an across-the-board tax increase.

“This is an unnecessary and regressive tax increase that, if implemented, will be a direct hit to the pocketbooks of those who live and do business in the District, plain and simple,” Mr. Mendelson said.

The council’s Committee of the Whole is scheduled to hold a public briefing on Mr. Fenty’s proposal Monday.

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