City bal­lot ques­tions

Our view: We op­pose manda­tory set-asides in the city bud­get — even the youth fund

Baltimore Sun - - FROM PAGE ONE -

Bal­ti­more City vot­ers will de­cide on sev­eral bond is­sues and char­ter amend­ments on Novem­ber’s bal­lot. The Sun makes the fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions.

Against Ques­tion E

We whole­heart­edly agree with City Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Bernard C. “Jack” Young that Bal­ti­more needs to in­vest more in its youth, but we don’t think this char­ter amend­ment is the right way to do it. The mea­sure calls for three cents of ev­ery $100 in as­sessed value in the city to be placed in the Chil­dren and Youth Fund — cur­rently the equiv­a­lent of about $11 mil­lion a year. That would come on top of the hun­dreds of mil­lions the city al­ready spends on ed­u­ca­tion, be­fore- and after-school pro­grams and recre­ation. Weob­ject on prin­ci­ple to man­dat­ing an ar­bi­trary level of spend­ing for any cause, no mat­ter how worth­while. When tough times come for the city bud­get, such a re­quire­ment will force the city to cut from other vi­tal needs re­gard­less of the rel­a­tive mer­its of what­ever pro­grams (as yet un­de­fined) that will get fund­ing from this set-aside.

If it is en­acted, we are en­cour­aged at least by Mr. Young’s de­sire to use par­tic­i­pa­tory bud­get­ing pro­cesses to de­ter­mine how some of the money is spent. Al­low­ing res­i­dents a more di­rect say in set­ting the city’s spend­ing pri­or­i­ties could help en­sure the money goes where it can best be used.

For Ques­tion H

When the In­ner Har­bor was ini­tially de­vel­oped, vot­ers de­cided to pro­hibit food con­ces­sions in cer­tain ar­eas, par­tially out of a de­sire to pre­serve open space and par­tially to pro­tect ex­ist­ing busi­ness own­ers form com­pe­ti­tion. Ques­tion H would al­low the cre­ation of small, lim­ited-ser­vice, sea­sonal out­door cafes near Rash Field and West Shore Park. Such con­ces­sions are com­mon in ur­ban parks. The idea here is not to cre­ate des­ti­na­tion restau­rants but places where par­ents whose kids are play­ing in the Sond­heim Foun­tain can buy an ice cream, or vol­ley­ball play­ers on Rash Field can get a sports drink or a sand­wich. It’s a good idea with vir­tu­ally no down­side.

For Ques­tion I

Bal­ti­more’s lack of reg­u­lar agency au­dits has been a big is­sue in re­cent years, and this mea­sure im­proves upon a 2012 char­ter amend­ment re­quir­ing them. This new mea­sure in­creases the sched­ule for au­dits of prin­ci­pal city agen­cies to ev­ery two years in­stead of ev­ery four, and it adds three more agen­cies to the list for au­dits. The amend­ment also en­sures greater in­de­pen­dence in the way au­dits are con­ducted. Presently, many au­dits are con­ducted by the Depart­ment of Fi­nance, which re­ports to the mayor; this amend­ment puts them all un­der the aus­pices of the comp­trol­ler’s of­fice. It also sets up an ad­vi­sory board to help au­di­tors de­ter­mine what met­rics should be used in per­for­mance au­dits. It’s an im­por­tant step to­ward pro­vid­ing more ef­fi­cient and trans­par­ent city gov­ern­ment.

For Ques­tion J

Ques­tion J also cre­ates a ded­i­cated fund within city gov­ern­ment for a worth­while cause — this time, af­ford­able hous­ing — but does so with­out man­dat­ing a par­tic­u­lar amount or source of fund­ing. Rather, it merely sets up a struc­ture for the city to use to al­lo­cate funds from the gen­eral bud­get, one-time monies, do­na­tions or other sources. Hun­dreds of other lo­cal gov­ern­ments have such funds, in­clud­ing those in Mont­gomery and Howard coun­ties, and they have been ef­fec­tive in en­sur­ing the avail­abil­ity of safe hous­ing for low-in­come res­i­dents in a way Bal­ti­more’s cur­rent, tooth­less af­ford­able hous­ing statute doesn’t.

For Ques­tions A-D

Bal­ti­more has just gone through a mas­sive de­bate about is­su­ing bonds re­lated to the Port Cov­ing­ton de­vel­op­ment, so some vot­ers may look at pro­posed bond is­sues on the bal­lot with a jaun­diced eye. Th­ese are dif­fer­ent. They are rou­tine bor­row­ing, backed by the full faith and credit of the city, not to ben­e­fit any par­tic­u­lar pri­vate de­vel­oper. Bal­ti­more has a AA or AA- bond rat­ing from all three ma­jor rat­ing agen­cies, a sign of strong fis­cal man­age­ment and the abil­ity to re­pay such debts.

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