by Mikenzie Frost
BALTIMORE (WBFF) — Creating more transparency and accountability for city-funded programs should be a priority for elected leaders, taxpayer transparency and watchdog groups said, and that includes publishing audits for the public to see.
Baltimore City is expected to get $641 million from the American Rescue Plan; so far, about half has arrived with the rest coming mid-2022. By law, all the money must be committed by the end of 2024.
Mayor Brandon Scott has held several news conferences announcing where chunks of money would be going; $50 million for violence prevention, $80 million for COVID-related expenses within the Health Department, the Department of Recreation and Parks is set to get millions for rec center renovations and the city is expected to buy hotels for the homeless population in Baltimore City.
But detailed spending plans from the city remain in question. The city has a dashboard outlining where the money has been allocated and showcasing different information than what Mayor Scott had announced. For example, Scott announced $50 million would be going to violence prevention programs and $22 million of that dedicated to programs like Safe Streets – a community violence interruption program.
Currently, audits aren’t done on Safe Streets on a regular basis that are made public. The nonprofit groups that operate Safe Streets are required to submit monthly reports to the Mayor’s Office, but those are not made public. FOX45 News has submitted public information requests for the reports.
“Immediately, we are calling on all the elected officials in Baltimore to come clean on the program of Safe Streets,” said Adam Andrzejewski, founder of Openthebooks.com, a tax dollar transparency organization. “Citizens deserve to see whether it’s working or not before potentially tens of millions of dollars are thrown at the program.”
The problem, Andrzejewski said, is the lack of transparency surrounding how Safe Streets spends the cash. Once the money flows through the city and is given to the nonprofits to operate the program, the money is dispersed and the oversight seems to stop; that creates murky mandates for accountability and oversight, Andrzejewski added.
“When government gives millions of dollars of taxpayer money, it basically goes to these nonprofits and people can’t follow the money, that’s a transparency problem,” he said.
Currently, the city of Baltimore requires biennial audits – done twice every four years – of various departments. Comptroller Bill Henry’s Office told FOX45 News the city auditor has the power to perform audits if requested.
In the meantime, Safe Streets is planning to expand, utilizing some of the money expected from the American Rescue Plan.
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