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by Mark Reutter1:46 pmJun 6, 20180

Activists lament mayor’s funding of police overtime, saying it should go for affordable housing

The $21 million represents a lost opportunity to bankroll the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, they say.

Above: Housing advocates display at City Hall a quilt of red Xs, the symbol used to mark vacant houses in Baltimore.

Hurriedly approving $21 million in police overtime, Mayor Catherine Pugh left the Board of Estimates room today before a young activist could question her priorities.

“When are you going to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” asked Destiny Watford, as Pugh turned her back to the audience and headed for a side door to her suite of offices on the second floor of City Hall.

Watford, winner of the prestigious Goldman Prize for her environmental advocacy in Curtis Bay, was referring to a trust fund that city voters had approved in 2016 that has still not been funded by the Pugh administration.

An umbrella group, Housing For All, has been pushing for $20 million of seed money for the fund.

“Ironically, nearly the same amount was approved today for the police,” said Greg Sawtell, an organizer with United Workers.

Total Cop Overtime: $48 Million

After Pugh slipped out of the room, a dozen housing advocates unfurled a quilt consisting of the red Xs that “you see on the fronts of vacant house across the city,” Sawtell said.

Other protesters, detained at City Hall’s entrance by security guards, did not reach the hearing room in time.

The $21 million in police overtime – first disclosed in the board’s agenda on Monday – will help fill the projected $48 million in police overtime for fiscal 2018, which ends June 30.

The city had budgeted nearly $30 million for police overtime this fiscal year through two separate funds. But the agency had rocketed through the budgeted amount by mid-February.

BPD was headed for a $52 million deficit this year when Commissioner Kevin Davis, in one of his last acts before being fired, required pre-authorized overtime for sworn personnel.

A Sustainable System?

Since then, the department has reduced its overtime expenditures from $987,000 a week to $848,672 a week, management services chief Steven O’Dell told the City Council last week.

This saving reduced the projected FY18 overtime to around $48 million, which O’Dell characterized to the Council as “a sustainable system.”

The fresh funds, to pay the 900 officers, sergeants and lieutenants who significantly increase their salaries through overtime, come from property transfer and recordation taxes that the city says weren’t expected this year.

Sawtell noted that the source of this unexpected windfall – the buying and selling of real estate – makes the housing trust fund a perfect candidate for the money.

Speed Camera Fines for Fire

At today’s meeting, the mayor did not address affordable housing or police overtime.

The $21 million fund transfer was approved without comment by voice vote, with City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young abstaining.

Additionally, the board transferred $4 million of speed camera revenues for unexpected overtime racked up by the Fire Department.

Bike advocates and others criticized the diversion of the funds, saying state law requires that speed camera revenues be used to promote traffic calming and roadway safety.

“We have dire transportation needs in the city of Baltimore,” said Councilman Brandon M. Scott. “What we’ve been told for years is that traffic camera revenues are going to traffic safety.”

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