Mayor Marion Barry has abruptly proposed cancellation of $20 million in planned public works projects -- including modernization of two of the city's most deteriorated high schools, a new Deanwood branch library in far Northeast and a new city home for delinquent youth.
Barry's action angered City Council and school board members because they were not consulted. It is an attempt to win from Congress a larger federal payment, which the mayor wants to help his efforts to avert a city budget deficit of as much as $170 million by the end of the current fiscal year.
Many of the projects, such as the Deanwood library and modernization of Eastern and Coolidge high schools, had been sought for year. Some were to begin in the coming months, though no construction work on any of the projects was planned before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.
Barry's proposed cancellations require congressional approval. They were outlined Monday in a submission to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate District Appropriations subcommittee.
The cancellations are part of an arrangement city officials hammered out last week with Leahy and other senators under which the District would agree to give up some construction projects in return for more operating money in the form of a higher supplemental federal payment.
Barry had requested a payment of $61.8 million, all of which he said he needed to balance the city's budget. But the House of Representatives approved a payment of only $28.8 million.
Under the arrangement canceling the construction projects, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a higher payment that would provide the city $38.8 million for operating costs. If the full Senate approves the payment and he project cancellations, then House and Senate conferees must reach agreement on a final figure.
The decision to abandon the construction projects is only the latest in a series of actions taken by Barry in an attempt to contain a worsening budget crises. He has already proposed cutbacks in services, increased taxes, and the elimination of 1,540 city jobs by the end of the fiscal year. On Tuesday, D.C. School Superintendent Vincent E. Reed said that the budget crunch would force the layoffs of 1,100 employes in the school system alone.
Public works projects of the kind Barry wants to cancel are funded through what amounts to long-term borrowing. But since no money has actually been borrowed for the projects, the city is not using borrowed money to pay operating costs, which would violate accepted procedures of municipal finance.
But many of the improvements that have now been written off were long overdue, such as renovation of the high schools, and canceling them presumably will have an adverse impact on the long-term health of the city's physical plant.
"We felt that if we had to give up capital authority for operating funds, these were the projects that were deemed to be suitable," City Administrator Elijah B. Rogers said in explanation of the list.
Officials said some of the projects may in fact no longer be needed. Rogers said, for example, that the need for a new $1.1 million headquarters for the D.C. recorder of deeds has been eliminated by the discovery of new office space.
Lee Partridge, clerk of the City Council's Committee on Human Services, said that abandoment of the plan to build a new $5.5 million centralized home for juveniles has long been considered, and that officials now believe several smaller homes would be more feasible.
But the mayor's action brought a storm of protest from council and school board members who were not consulted in the drafting of the list. And some officials predicted the actions would hurt Barry politically.
"This guy is through in Adams-Morgan, and that's for the record," City Council member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) said of the mayor after learning that one of the projects to be eliminated was the landscaping of an Adams-Morgan park.
City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon charged that Barry's action showed "clear disregard . . . for the authority of the legislative branch." In an angry letter to Barry, Dixon charged that the mayor's decision to compile the list on his own was in disregard of the city's home rule charter.
School Board President R. Calvin Lockridge complained that no school officials had been consulted before Barry's action.
"This seems to be the way the mayor does business with the Board of Education," Lockridge said. "He treats us as his agent."
Board member Carol Schwartz said she was "appalled" by the mayor's recommendation that the renovation of Coolidge and Eastern high schools be canceled. "These are old schools in dire need of renovation," she said. "These schools are certainly not underutilized. If you just visit them, you will see everything needs repairs."
City Administrator Rogers said council and school board members were not consulted because officials were up against a tight deadline -- they had to submit a preliminary list to Leahy by Last Friday:
The plans for renovation of Coolidge High School included removing the entire interior of the building and adding an indoor swimming pool. "No significant improvements" have been made to the structure since 1955, when the school's stadium was built, according to school records.
The project at Eastern High school was to include all-new science labs, industrial arts centers, business education and some economics facilities, a new gymnasium, a swimming pool and a music room.
In addition to the $1.5 million library, the $3 million high school improvements, the youth home and the Adams-Morgan park, projects Barry has proposed canceling include:
Construction of a new building to replace Fire Department Engine Co. 20 at 4300 Wisconsin Ave. NW, at a cost of $1.7 million; sewer improvements in the Oxon Run and Georgetown areas costing $2.5 million; a $400,000 renovation of food service facilities at Forest Haven; another $400,000 in improvements to the city's principal warehouse; $3 million in unspecified improvements the city buildings, and $600,000 in miscellaneous construction, modernization and landscaping for the Department of Recreation. c