Here is Staff Writer Nikita Stewart's final report from Friday's hearing, which lasted until after 8 p.m.
Carolyn Dallas, executive director of Youth Court, left the council chambers in tears after council members appeared as if they will not honor her $450,000 request for the program that keeps an average 1,500 youths out of jail each year.
Dallas fielded questions from Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) about whether the diversion program had already received two years of funding. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) chided Dallas for failing to generate more sources of funding and to establish a board of directors. "Didn't we have this same discussion...last year?" he asked.
Without the $450,000, Dallas said Youth Court will likely fold. In an interview, she said her staff of six or seven employees cannot serve juveniles and try to raise private money at the same time. "The numbers (of juvenile offenders) have been increasing year after year," she said.
She said the program has been in operation for 12 years and she has been executive director for the past five years.
Through the program, juveniles are heard and sentenced by their peers. Community service and other tasks replace jail time in a 10-week program. Gretchen Martens, who is consulting Youth Court on its finances, said other juvenile courts around the country are funded by municipalities and police departments.
Three hours into today's budget hearing, school advocates and members of the State Board of Education share the view that the council should reject Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposal to eliminate two public hearings that are held before school expenditures are considered by the council.
On page 47 of Fenty's proposed budget support act, it reads: "The public shall be afforded the
opportunity to formally provide input and comment on the levels of funding for the District of Columbia Public Schools in a manner consistent with that of all cabinet level agencies."
President Robert Bobb, vice president Lisa Raymond and District 1 Representative Mary Lord were on a panel together followed by advocates, including Marc Borbely and Iris Toyer.
Getting views from the public at more hearings "makes for good public policy," Bobb said.
Lord chimed in, "It makes for good public relations."
Today's budget hearing started off in rather dramatic fashion.
Mark Friedman, Susan Calloway and Levone Seegars, all small business owners in the District, appeared at today's D.C. Council budget hearing via video. With the help of the Chamber of Commerce, they taped testimony against Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's plan to scale back commercial property tax relief that the council has already approved.
Calloway, who owns Susan Calloway Fine Arts in Georgetown, said she could not attend the hearing because she could not afford to leave her business unattended. "In two years, my taxes have gone up over 100 percent," she said. "If you don't pass this (council plan), it doesn't seem like there's any end in sight."
Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said he was sympathetic, saying a business cannot "double the price of a hamburger" to make up for the squeeze of rising taxes.
About 50 people are currently in the council chambers. But more than 75 people are scheduled to testify.
Nonprofits, businesses, school advocates and others will be out in force to testify about Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's proposed 2009 budget today at the District Council's public hearing, set for 10 a.m.
The city is relatively better off than other jurisdictions in these days of economic downturn, but the budget, which essentially remains flat, is a battleground.
At issue among nonprofits is the mayor's plan to give a $10 million earmark to Ford's Theatre, a federal landmark, while local groups are getting much less or nothing at all.
Meanwhile, small business owners are eager to line up to oppose Fenty's alternative plan to a council-approved tax cut for businesses that would grant $96 million in relief next year. Fenty has proposed a plan that would phase in the tax cut, which he said could free up more money for programs. His administration argues that its plan would offer businesses more relief when measured over three years. Others, including Chairman Vincent C. Gray, are saying not so fast.
Watch D.C. Wire for updates on the hearing today.