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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The price of security The price of security (September 11, 2002)

Officials wonder who will pay

The Bush administration has made cities key players in carrying out its domestic antiterrorist program. It may wind up sticking them with the tab as well.

President George W. Bush has called for an antiterrorism budget of $38 billion, including about $3.5 billion for the states to distribute within their borders. Seventy-five percent of the state allocation is supposed to go to cities, which are expected to pony up a 25 percent match.

But based on what they've seen so far, city officials are not expecting that money to flow into their coffers anytime soon.

City Manager Frank Benest is skeptical that the federal antiterrorist budget will ever materialize, since it is based on "very, very optimistic -- even bogus" revenue projections made during the high-flying 1990s.

Rather than a $5.7 trillion surplus for the next decade, the nation will probably have deficits of $100 billion to $150 billion a year, said Cameron Whitman, the director of policy and federal relations for the National League of Cities.

With the sudden drop in revenues, Benest thinks antiterrorism spending could translate into eventual cuts in services provided at the local level, including courts and health care. If the money goes for fighting terror, something else will have to give.

"To the extent that you don't buy (federal budget projections,) eventually you'll have to take drastic action, unless you go into deficit spending," Benest said.

So far, Palo Alto has not put a price tag on its new terrorism response plan, which Palo Alto Police Chief Pat Dwyer will present to the City Council on Sept. 16.

Carl Yeats, Palo Alto's director of administrative services, noted that most of the cost will be absorbed by adding antiterrorism planning to employees' other duties.

As for the tally after Sept. 11, he estimated that the city incurred about $16,400 in overtime expenses.

Dwyer said the antiterrorism initiative inevitably carries a significant hidden cost, in that it diverts resources from other functions and puts a strain on the department's training budget.

"Time spent in training is time we're not on the street delivering services," he said. "And if before we sent people to offsite training for identity theft, homicide or traffic, a lot are going for terrorism training now."

-- Pam Sturner


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