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Councilmania

On the Agenda for Nov. 15

With no new ordinances introduced this week, councilmembers contented themselves with passing resolutions recognizing Municipal Government Works Month (10-0231R), America Recycles Day (-0232R), and the National Education Association’s American Education Week (-0233R). But there was some interesting action on five bills already introduced.

The five, numbered 10-0606 through 10-0610, jumped from Second Reader to final passage during the meeting, skipping the usual one-meeting wait on Third Reader. Asked why the items were expedited, Councilmember Bill Henry (D-4th District) said he didn’t know, then walked to the front of the chamber to confer with council staff. “They’re afraid that the Republicans will try to take money away once they control the House [of Representatives],” Henry said upon returning.

“They’re federal grants,” Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke (D-14th District) explained a few minutes later. “I’m pretty cavalier about federal grants. If they’re giving the money, I say take it.”

Lester Davis, a spokesman for Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D), confirmed the explanation the next morning. “They wanted to get this wrapped up before the lame duck [congressional] session was over,” Davis said. “Knowing that the House is going to change hands, we didn’t want to take anything for granted.”

Weirdly, though, only two of the five items appear to rely on federal dollars.

Bill 10-0606, a $750,000 supplement to the Department of General Services, is earmarked to install solar panels on the roof of the Baltimore Convention Center as part of something called “Project Sunburst.” It’s part of last year’s big economic stimulus plan. Bill 10-0607, similarly, puts another $200,000 in the city’s hands as part of the “Local Energy Assurance Planning” grant. That money will be spent to create “a local energy plan that will provide various ways in which key energy sources will continue to function even during periods of disaster,” according to a memo from Theodore Atwood, director of the city’s Department of General Services.

But the remaining three items do not appear to rely on federal funds at all. Bill 10-0608, a $1.8 million supplementary general fund capital appropriation to the Department of General Services, comes from the “Asbestos Litigation Settlement,” which is not a federal fund. The money is to be spent removing asbestos insulation from city-owned buildings. Bill 10-0609 gives the Department of Planning an additional $500,000 “to provide other funds for the Critical Area Stormwater Offset Program,” which is a mechanism to attempt to keep contaminants out of the Chesapeake Bay. The money comes from developers, though, not the feds. And Bill 10-0610, which lays another $500,000 on the Department of Planning, will supplement the “Critical Area Buffer Offset Program,” which has the same basic aim as the stormwater program. That’s also money charged to developers who “cannot meet certain area requirements at their site.”

Asked about this, Davis said the mayor’s office had said there were time constraints on the non-federal items.

The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Nov. 22.

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