Proposed Budget Includes Increases and Furloughs

Gale Horton Gay | 3/20/2013, 1:17 p.m.

The proposed 2014 budget for Prince George's County has its hare of highs and lows.

For the most part, Prince George's County Chief Executive Rushern L. Baker's proposed $3.24 billion budget maintains the status quo for most existing programs and services with increases in public safety personnel and additional money for economic development and housing assistance. However, if approved, Baker's budget will mean employees face furloughs and early retirement incentives will also go into effect.

Baker said the proposed budget, which is .6 percent larger than the current budget, was one of the toughest to put together due to a $152 million budget gap.

"We took these fiscal challenges as an opportunity to streamline our operations, make data-driven decisions and prioritize our spending in ways that strengthen our government and optimize our resources," said Baker, who added that he and other county representatives "had to address and begin looking at how we would focus our resources in a new and different way."

Highlights of the proposed budget include: creation of a Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement, $11 million for the school system, library hours maintained at all 19 branches, $16 million for six Transforming Neighborhoods Initiatives and long-term investment to improve water quality as well as stormwater management.

"Despite the challenging effects of the recession that continue to impact revenues and place tremendous pressure on our budget, we feel confident that these strategic investments will provide positive outcomes and measurable results for our citizens," said Baker.

In addition to adding 80 new police officers to the force - bringing the number of sworn officers to 1,649 - the proposed budget also funds 35 new fire/EMS recruits and new apparatus along with adding 20 new correctional officers.

If the budget is approved, the state's attorney's office also will receive an increase to hire two new investigators and get more money for the gun and drug unit.

The proposed budget also includes five furlough days for county employees, a voluntary retirement incentive program and what is described as a "minimal" reduction in the workforce.

"This budget is lean and comprehensive, we had to make some very tough decisions to off-set slow and stagnate growth," said Baker. "We made critical investments to improve our schools, provide safe neighborhoods, maintain high-quality health and human service levels and protect and beautify our environment."

Prince George's County Council Chair Andrea C. Harrison acknowledged the challenging fiscal climate facing the county, calling it "yet another difficult budget season."

She encouraged the public to participate in the budget process by attending budget hearings for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission at 1:30 p.m. on April 9, Community Development Block Grant at 7 p.m. on April 16 as well as the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission at 7 p.m. on April 23. All will be held in the Council Hearing Room, on the first floor, County Administration Building, 14741 Governor Oden Bowie Drive, in Upper Marlboro. To testify, contact the Clerk of the Council at 301-952-3600.

The Prince George's County Council must approve the 2014 proposed budget by June 1.