By MALIA RULON, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) - Ohio Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor and mayors from nearly a dozen Ohio cities got their first chance Thursday to lobby the president on their funding needs for guarding against domestic terrorism.
"The money needs to go to the states, and there has to be a comprehensive plan in order to access those funds," O'Connor said after an afternoon meeting between President Bush and state officials.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks and subsequent anthrax threats, Ohio cities have hired more police officers, bought secure doors and internal cameras for their city halls, and stocked up on protective gear.
"It's the little things like that that just add up," Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic said. "Those are the things that are real, substantive and really help our people and communities, and that's where the money really needs to be spent."
Toledo Mayor Jack Ford agreed. Even though the city now has high costs from overtime pay and heightened security, he said, it's important "to make sure that our first responders are ready to go."
About 300 mayors who gathered in Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual winter meeting met with Bush Thursday morning.
Bush told the mayors he wants to devote nearly $37.7 billion in his fiscal 2003 budget plan to preparing for and preventing domestic terror attacks. He said $3.5 billion would go to those "first responders" -- police, firefighters and emergency medical teams.
"The first minutes or hours after an attack are the most hopeful minutes for saving lives," Bush said. "We've got to understand and remember the important role of first responders."
That came as good news for the mayors' group, which on Wednesday released a tally of what cities are spending to bolster themselves against possible attacks.
Based on a sample of 192 towns, including seven from Ohio, the conference estimated that the nationwide cost to cities of terrorism-related security will hit $2.6 billion by the end of 2002.
Just by the end of last year, the bill totaled more than $525 million, the survey found.
In Canton, Ohio, for example, security increases have meant upgrading access doors at the City Hall garage and increasing the use of security cards on newly installed doors. The city hopes to add cameras and alarm systems to its water division in the coming year.
"The city is shuffling around an already tight budget in an attempt to accommodate changes in security and safety," the city wrote in the survey.
Chillicothe, Ohio, officials have increased security at the water treatment plant, provided terrorism training for police and city employees and bought additional protective clothing. And in the northeast Columbus, Ohio, suburb of Gahanna, the fire department has been called to investigate suspicious packages four to six times a week, ringing up overtime costs as well as spending on protective clothing and gloves.
O'Connor said the state is "very mindful" of local needs, but wants to make sure the state coordinates its homeland security efforts.
"You might be looking at a regional response as opposed to individual community responses and individual city responses," she said. "We don't want redundancy here and wasting of dollars."