Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker released his proposed budget on March 14 for the Prince George’s County Council’s review. In the budget, Baker said he tried to fund key programs even though the county’s economy is still in a downturn.

“In order to move Prince George’s County along the path to greatness, we had to make difficult decisions in the FY2012 budget process due to these challenging economic times,” Baker said. “I am committed to making smart investments that will move the county forward.”

The county has seen a decrease in real property assessments due to correction in the housing market and that will cause a decrease from $96 billion in property taxes in fiscal 2011 to $84 billion in fiscal 2012, the lowest in four years.

The county is also losing out on $10 million in Maryland Disparity Grant funding, $46 million in funding from Parks and Planning and the loss of several million in federal stimulus dollars to the county’s public school system.

Despite that, Baker plans to invest $1.6 billion in the public schools, $535 million in public safety and $15 million for Dimensions Health, the company that operates Prince George’s Hospital Center.

The funding for public schools still fell about $8 million short of what the county’s school board requested. However, Prince George’s Public Schools Superintendent William Hite still thanked Baker for his commitment to education.

“I thank the County Executive for his support of education funding and for making a decision which will help sustain our education reform,” said Hite in a statement. “This announcement demonstrates his commitment to the children of our County.”

One new initiative Baker wants to fund is the Economic Development Incentive (EDI). Baker is asking to use a one-time payment of $50 million from the county’s fund balance to provide a long-term financial solution to the county’s current fiscal woes.

“That will help us expand our economy and expand our commercial tax base,” Baker said. “This expansion will provide additional resources in the long term for our major priority areas; K-12 education and public safety.”

Coming with the fund is a new economic development team consisting of Carla Reid, deputy chief administrative officer for economic development, as well as David Iannucci and Aubrey Thagard, both given the title of assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development and public infrastructure.

Although those investments were made, the county will continue its hiring freeze as well as suspending all cost of living and step increases for county employees. Baker said the decision to ask county employees to take a hit was the toughest decision he had to make.

“The people who work in this government deserve increases,” he said. “If there was any way that I could fund it I would.

“We simply can’t find the resources to do it,” he continued.

The Council now gets the budget to work through before they return it to Baker for final approval. In the meantime, Baker said he will continue to work with Gov. Martin O’Malley and the Prince George’s delegation in Annapolis to fight for more funding.

 

George Barnette

Special to the AFRO