Mayor Anthony A. Williams's request for an additional $21.9 million in spending arrived with a thud at the D.C. Council yesterday as members grilled department heads and threatened to slash requests.
Council members said some of the funding proposals would be wasteful or further failed policies. The requests from Williams (D) would be funded out of a budget reserve.
Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large) warned Health Director Gregg A. Pane about "illegitimate padding" of his department's request for additional money for a program that provides Medicaid benefits to HIV/AIDS patients who work at least 40 hours a month.
Other council members questioned why the Williams administration was seeking $3.8 million to jump-start the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services after maintaining that the creation of the department, which was split off from human services, would not have much of a fiscal impact. The requests even included new money for the Oak Hill Youth Center, a troubled facility that the council voted to close in four years.
The $21.9 million that the Williams administration requested also includes $3.8 million to start the Anacostia Waterfront Corp., $3.2 million for tourism promotion, $2.1 million for health programs, $2.1 million for schooling at the city's new youth services center, $1.7 million for charter schools, $1.5 million for the office of attorney general for child support collections and $1 million each for a library consultant and low-income energy assistance.
Council members debated the requests yesterday. No date has been scheduled to vote on the requests.
Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), chairman of the Human Services Committee, sharply questioned Vincent Schiraldi, the newly appointed acting director of Youth Rehabilitation Services, about spending money on Oak Hill. Fenty, usually a strong proponent of increased spending on human services, said he will oppose some of the funding requests. Continuing to fund improvements to the facility is a waste of money and would encourage the continued use of the center, he said.
In addition to housekeeping funds, Schiraldi said, the additional money would be used to help the city meet the requirements of the Jerry M. consent decree, which outlined reforms for health, safety, education and treatment deficiencies in the city's juvenile justice system.
Schiraldi said that while he agreed with Fenty and others about the need to close Oak Hill, the department still has to provide for youths at Oak Hill and ensure the safety of youths who are in the department's care. He said that an increase in commitments is stretching the department's resources.
"We're in a tough situation. We're jammed to the rafters," he said, referring to approximately 200 youths now at Oak Hill, compared with about 120 in recent years. "I'm on Day 12 -- I don't have a detailed plan to close Oak Hill yet." He said it will take 90 days to prepare a plan to close the facility.
Fenty said that the administration in recent years has asked for more money to comply with the consent decree, while at the same time the department has moved further away from compliance.
"Someone's going to have to show tough love," Fenty said. "If the mayor is not going to do it, the council will have to."
Meanwhile, Catania said the Health Department had asked for staffing and other administrative costs for a program to help HIV/AIDS clients maintain part-time work even though the administrative costs are covered by Medicaid. He said it was wrong for the department to ask for such money when the funds could be used for the 75 city residents on the program's waiting list.
"This is something to put you on notice," Catania said. He said that department staff members might be "taking liberties hoping the council will not be peeking behind the curtain."