Democratic mayoral candidates Patricia Roberts Harris and City Council member John Ray yesterday criticized Mayor Marion Barry's handling of D.C. finances, claiming the city would have plenty of money for additional services if it did a better job of collecting money owed to it.
Harris and Ray held separate press conferences in Northeast Washington to illustrate what they described as unmet needs of city residents that could have been paid for if the city had done a better job of mananging its funds. Harris stressed shortcomings in the recreation department and Ray cited what he described as serious deficiencies in fire protection.
Harris summoned reporters to a rundown playground adjacent to the abandoned Crummell School, near Central Place and Gallaudet Street NE., to accuse the city of needlessly spending $29 million of local revenues on programs for which federal funds were earmarked but hadn't been collected by the city as of April 30.
Had the city been more prompt in "drawing down" federal grants, Harris told reporters and about 20 local residents, there would have been enough local funds available to refurbish several playgrounds, such as the one at Crummell School, or hire additional skilled aides to work with handicapped elderly people.
City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers later disputed Harris's claim. He insisted that the city was up-to-date in obtaining installments on its federal grants and claimed that Harris was "grasping at straws" by criticizing the mayor's cash-management system.
Meanwhile, Ray, an at-large council member, held a press conference in a vacant, garbage strewn lot near 5th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE., to blast the mayor for delays in construction of what Ray said was a badly needed new fire station at that location.
Citing internal fire department documents, Ray said that it now takes nearly six minutes for the department to respond to a call from that neighborhood, and that nearly three minutes could be shaved off the response time if a new station were built. Ray said that the city could afford to build the station if the Barry administration had done better at collecting money due the city.
An audit by the General Accounting Office released last week concluded that the D.C. government was failing to take "timely, forceful and persistent action" to collect at least $75 million in delinquent bills owed to the city. The GAO study focused on only three city departments--Human Services, Transportation, and Environmental Services.
Rogers said that the GAO report failed to credit the "tremendous progress" the city has made in collections.