Mayor Marion Barry criticized the White House yesterday for failing to support the city's pending budget requests in Congress and said the growing shortage of funds will force him to seek a sharp tax increase a year from now.
"We did not have the lobbying and enthusiasm . . . that we thought we should have" from presidential aides for financing city operations in the 1980 fiscal year, Barry declared, adding, "We need more support from the White House."
It was Barry's first public criticism of President Carter's treatment of the nation's capital since he took office as mayor last January.
Speaking at an open forum of civic leaders, Barry also delivered an unusually free-swinging and blunt assessment of the city government he has headed for seven months. Answering audience questions in a relaxed manner, the mayor declared:
The two members of Congress who principally oversee the city budget, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Charles Wilson (D-Tex.), really were right in criticizing the city's bloated work force of 40,000 employees. Municipal officials "can't continue to defend that and get away with it," Barry said.
In the Department of Human Resources, the city's largest agency with 6,000 employees and a proposed budget of more than a quarter-billion dollars, "We find . . . a lack of competent people . . . Some of them are not very competent, not up to the task, [and] some are not trainable . . . You are going to see some [personnel] moves."
School board members "were a little chicken" in bowing to pressures from city neighborhoods and refusing to close 24 under-utilized schools despite "a tight budget situation [in which keeping them open] doesn't make sense."
Services provided citizens must be made equal throughout the city even if it means we "take some services from Ward 3 [west of Rock Creek Park] and put them in Ward 7 or Ward 8 [east of the Anacostia River] These are some of the tough decisions that must be made."
Barry, accompanied by high ranking aides, appeared before about 200 civic association officials and members of advisory neighborhood commissions views on the city budget for the 1981 fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 1980, which is now being prepared. The meeting was held in the Martin Luther King Jr. Library at 901 G St. NW.
The mayor's criticism of the White House support for the city's pending budget request was sparked by a question from Karl Mautner, an advisory neighborhood commissioner from the city's Chevy Chase area.
For the 1980 fiscal year, starting six weeks from now, Carter had requested a federal payment [chiefly in lieu of taxes on government property] of $317 million. The U.S. House of Representatives approved $191 million, which would be the lowest level of federal support for the city in five years. The Senate approved $249 million. The final sum -- probably somewhere between the two figures -- must be resolved by a joint conference committee soon.
"The White House support," Mautner observed in posing his question to Barry, "seemed somewhat weak this time."
"We agree with that," Barry replied, adding later: "We don't have enough friends on [Capitol] Hill."
The 1981 budget on which Barry sought the comments yesterday is scheduled to be presented to the City Council on Sept. 17. Barry and his budget director, Gladys Mack, said it will be delayed until about Oct. 1 to give Congress time to act on the 1980 budget. Only then will the city be able to project its future needs accurately, both have said.
Barry said he would keep the campaign promise he made last year not to propose any major new taxes in his first year as mayor. But he said there will be some lesser increases, such as a rise in water and sewer rates.
Barry said he will be forced to propose increases in taxes at this time next year, to finance the budget for the 1982 fiscal year, Barry said. "The gap is too big, we just can't close it," he declared.
Although the mayor did not say so yesterday, the size of next year's tax increase will be dictated largely by the levels of the federal payment voted by Congress this year and next. Because the city must submit a balanced budget for congressional action, any shortfall in the federal contribution toward balancing the city budget must be made up by increased local revenues.
Barry said his emphasis will be on "doing more with less" -- providing equal or improved services with less money and fewer employees.
This idea drew applause. But the prospect of higher taxes next year met a glum response. Virginia Matthews, a Ward 5 resident, noted a recent study showing that D.C. residents paid higher taxes than the residents of 41 states.
One reason, Barry acknowledged, is the large number of city employees. He noted that Rep. Wilson had issued a report showing that the District has 146 employees to do what 100 employees do in an average state, county or other city.
"I feel the same way," Barry said. "I think we have too many . . . I am going to try to find ways to reduce the number of employees."
Ethel Onley, representing the central Northeast Civic Association, said school funds should be spent on teaching children and not so much on administration.
"You look at the hierarchy," she told the mayor. "There are so many assistants to the assistants to the assistant [superintendent] you just wonder, what's happening to the children?"
Barry grinned. As president of the Board of Education in the early 1970s, he said, he had brought about a 15 percent cut in the administrative force. "It's creeping back up again," he said. He then made his pitch for closing underutilized school buildings to save funds.
The mayor's comments about the Department of Human Resources came when he was asked how soon he would strip the agency of its public health functions and create a separate health department. Barry had once said he intended to do so.
"I am going to make a decision on that very soon . . . I am lessening my enthusiasm for a separate [department]," he said, noting that the medical community was moving in the same direction.
Without mentioning names, Barry said the city is "going to see some moves" of people in DHR. That confirmed reports of such action that have circulated in recent days.
Just last week, Albert P. Russo, the department's director, removed the head of the city's narcotics treatment clinics.
Some in yesterday's audience could not resist the opportunity to express their own pet gripes to the mayor.
For Peter Bencich, who lives in the city's Takoma neighborhood, the subject was potholes on neighborhood streets.
"When it comes to potholes, what potholes are we repairing?" he asked. "They are repairing the main highways . . . for the out-of-town [suburbanites] to come in to the city . . . Why don't we bottleneck them? Why don't we make 16th Street one way, going north?"
Barry agreed that more money must be found to repave streets, including those in residential areas.
George Clarke, from the Adams-Morgan area, also questioned the idea of suburbanites cluttering city streets with their cars. His suggestion: "Put a toll gate at each side of the city and tax the people using [the streets]."
A good idea, Barry responded. But, he said, it could "lead to a loss of autonomy," from Congress probably reducing the city's limited home rule.