Mayor Muriel E. Bowser won the D.C. Council’s approval Tuesday for a $23 million supplemental budget that will allow the city to use surplus revenue to bolster anti-crime measures and expand employment assistance for District youth.
Tuesday’s legislative session was the first since council members returned from a month-long recess. They had less than a week to review the mayor’s proposal, in order to implement the spending plan before the start of the next fiscal year on Oct. 1.
The most contentious items included $4.5 million for a new jobs training program and $2.3 million to create 50 public service jobs for D.C. 20-somethings.
Several council members last week questioned whether those efforts would have enough oversight and requested more details on Bowser’s plan. Tuesday’s unanimous vote came after days of hurried, closed-door meetings at government headquarters, as the mayor’s staff sought to assuage council members’ concerns.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) had floated an amendment to withhold some of the funds until the mayor’s office provided answers, but he said that by Tuesday morning, lawmakers had been given “considerably more information” to make their decision.
Bowser laid out the basics of the plan Tuesday afternoon in a newsletter to constituents, saying that her actions to create jobs for at-risk youth, provide micro grants to community groups and outfit police with body cameras would make for a “safer, stronger” D.C.
Nearly half of the $23 million will be directed toward improving the city’s troubled crime lab and outfitting District police with body cameras as the city struggles to quell a rise in violent crime.
Bowser (D) has struggled since last spring to win council approval for the cameras; lawmakers said that footage would need to be available to the public through Freedom of Information Act requests, and that they had to agree on guidelines for the distribution of that video.
The city can now purchase the cameras the mayor requested but will not be able to use them until officials have decided how to manage the footage.
Another $1.25 million in the supplemental budget will provide mini grants to community organizations in high-crime areas.
Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At-Large) tried but failed to win majority support for an amendment to guarantee more oversight for that initiative.
Bowser on Tuesday also won the council’s unanimous approval to sell a piece of land in the rapidly gentrifying U Street corridor at below market rate. In exchange, the developer, who plans to open a Whole Foods Market on the site, along with residential units, will include 106 affordable housing units in the plan.
Councilmember Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1) said Tuesday that the units would be affordable to families making between 30 and 50 percent of the average median income, or between $40,000 and $53,000 annually.
The council members also arrived at their first legislative session of the fall with a bundle of new laws for consideration, including multiple proposals to confront the District’s 40 percent rise in homicides.
Kenyan McDuffie (D-Ward 5), who is chairman of the council’s committee on the judiciary, proposed legislation Tuesday that he said would engage human services agencies and neighborhood groups in crime-prevention measures.
The main aim of the bill, which would create an office of neighborhood engagement and safety, would be to “identify and engage” at-risk teenagers in high crime neighborhoods and work with them to identify opportunities beyond crime.
“What’s clear is we cannot arrest our way out of this crime problem,” McDuffie said.
Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) introduced a bill that would commit funds to ensure that the District police force, currently on the cusp of a major retirement bubble, keeps at least 4,000 officers on its force. D.C. currently has about 3,800 officers, he said.
Evans also proposed a bill that would make it mandatory for all new D.C. police, firefighters and public school teachers to live in the District. Evans said that about 80 percent of the District’s police officers, school teachers and firefighters live outside the city, effectively channeling D.C. tax dollars into other jurisdictions.
But he acknowledged that the legislation is likely to meet fierce resistance from the police and teachers’ unions, and from Congress, which ultimately holds the power to strike down any D.C. law.
Silverman proposed a bill to raise the city’s maximum unemployment benefit to $430 per week from $359 per week, a limit that she said has not been adjusted since 2005. Raising it to $430 would put the District’s unemployment benefits on par with neighboring Maryland, she said.
Other legislation introduced Tuesday included the creation of a “mobile hygiene unit” catering to the city’s homeless, an education initiative focused on sudden infant death syndrome, and new protections for the victims of sex trafficking.
Aaron C. Davis contributed to this report.