Prince George’s County could experience a $9.5 million budget shortfall next fiscal year.
The deficit is largely because of education funding, which budget director Stanley Early said accounts for two-thirds of county expenditures. The recommendations to limit the debt include requests for more state money toward school projects and even defer some projects.
“We would have to make adjustments and [it’s] a limit to how we can do it,” he said Thursday, Jan. 4 during the county council’s annual retreat at the Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park. “We need to make sure we are moving in a positive state. I think we are.”
Shawn Matlock, director of capital programs for the county’s public school system, presented ideas to fund capital projects and build new schools, including constructing a middle school and high school on the same property, or using county money on certain projects and “staged renovations” and utilizing state money to replace or renovate at least 10 schools.
“We are not saying a one-size-fits-all, it would be on a case-by-case basis,” Matlock said.
State Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-District 21), who represents parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, will reintroduce a bill in this year’s Maryland General Assembly on school construction.
A summary of the legislation, based on a report in 2016 by Martin G. Knott Jr. of Knott Mechanical Inc, will pay for new construction focused on cost per student and not per square foot. The current formula has the state pay for anywhere from half to all of school’s construction costs, based on a jurisdiction’s wealth and other factors.
The bill also encourages public-private partnerships. Because the funding method would change, it will decrease the costs for the county and state, Rosapepe said.
“This will save money,” he said.
Another financial expenditure in Prince George’s will add two additional council members to increase the board from nine to 11, which voters approved in the November 2016 election. According to preliminary estimates, it could cost about $1 million to fund the positions and staff.
Early said it’s still unknown how the new tax structure Congress approved last month will affect the county.
“Lord only knows,” he told council members at the retreat.
According to preliminary figures, proposed expenditures in fiscal year 2019 would increase by $111.3 million from the current year.
As for revenues, they could increase next year by $243 million, including about 4 percent in property taxes.
A main contributor comes from the MGM National Harbor casino resort, which is the county’s top taxpayer and estimated to bring in $32 million in revenue this fiscal year.
“MGM is baked in the cake,” Early said.
Although the deficit remains smaller than previous years and about $5 million more than the current fiscal year, Councilwoman Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi warned the money from MGM could eventually decrease based on competition in the state and East Coast.
“I think that’s really something to be mindful of,” she said. “It’s the excitement of the new we are seeing in our revenues. We need to be cautious and prudent on how we move forward.”