A fourth of cities report having problems meeting their public safety needs while addressing homeland security issues, while half of big cities reported they're finding it tougher to perform their expected public safety role.
Karen Anderson, president of the National League of Cities and mayor of Minnetonka, Minn., said: "Fifteen months after the attacks on the nation, the cost of local homeland security continues to be met with local resources, not federal."
Workers in the police and fire departments have been doing their regular duties and taking on additional responsibilities, said Mayor Michael Guido of Dearborn, Mich., who is co-chair of a task force on homeland security for the National League of Cities.
Guido, a Republican serving in a nonpartisan role as mayor, said local elected officials are getting frustrated.
"For 13 months, they have been doing these additional duties without any reimbursement or assistance from federal and state officials," Guido said. The initial proposal on homeland security included $3.5 billion in funding for first responders.
"It sends a very bad message to local government," the mayor said. "They come home and praise them for doing a great job but when it comes time to fund those activities, Congress does not follow through."
Congress is expected to consider the proposal again early next year.
A third of cities, and almost two-thirds of large cities, reported shifting money and moving personnel to cover city needs. Cuts in services or projects were expected by a fourth of all cities and almost four in 20 larger cities, defined as those with populations of 100,000 or more.
Nearly 4,000 city leaders were gathering in Salt Lake City Thursday through Saturday to discuss homeland security, the economy and other issues.
Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, joined the local cry for financial help Wednesday. Delays in congressional passage of budget measures threaten hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to cities and states, including local law enforcement block grants, he said.
Menino was reacting to a recent letter from the Justice Department indicating that federal funds for some grant programs will be delayed until federal appropriations bills are resolved.
That decision, he said, "leaves city budgets — already pinched by recession and homeland security spending — in even worse shape."
Congress ended its recent session without taking final action on the 13 appropriations bills that fund ongoing government services. The federal government is running on a temporary budget that funds programs at last year's levels.
The cities' problems are compounded by budget problems at the local, state and federal level, Guido said.
A recent report by the National Governors Association said states — squeezed by lower taxes because of economic trouble and higher costs from Medicaid — are in their worst fiscal straits since World War II, facing a collective budget shortfall of some $40 billion.
New York City, the city most affected by last year's terrorist attacks, has received federal disaster money to help defray some costs. But that didn't prevent a budget crisis that saw some taxes rise 18.5 percent last week, as the budget was slashed $850 million.