FORT WASHINGTON – The Prince George’s County Council and County Executive Rushern Baker III are at odds again after the Council voted unanimously to override Baker’s veto of the adopted Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning (M-NCPPC) budget. Last week the County Council adopted a budget slashing Baker’s proposal to raise taxes by 15 percent to […]
FORT WASHINGTON – The Prince George’s County Council and County Executive Rushern Baker III are at odds again after the Council voted unanimously to override Baker’s veto of the adopted Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning (M-NCPPC) budget.
Last week the County Council adopted a budget slashing Baker’s proposal to raise taxes by 15 percent to fund $133 million in additional funds for the county school system, instead voting to raise taxes by only 4 percent. However, the council also approved a budget for M-NCPPC that includes a 1.5 percent property tax increase.
Baker, who did not propose a tax increase in the M-NCPPC budget, vetoed the council’s budget but the council overrode it with a 9-0 vote.
“While I’m not surprised at the County Council’s decision, it is certainly unfortunate that they chose to raise people’s taxes for more parks and recreation, something we don’t need at this time,” Baker said. “We already have world class facilities and programs for our youth and our community. I know that we need the same level of investment to achieve a world class education system for our students.”
The planning department faces a structural deficit, Council Chairman Mel Franklin said, with expenses exceeding revenue on an annual basis. The department originally asked the county to increase property taxes by three cents, he said, but the council cut the proposal in half.
“1.5 cents today would be double or triple that next year if we do nothing and put it off for a year,” Franklin said. “The county executive decided to veto because he wants to wait until next year. With all due respect to the county executive, this veto is disappointing and fiscally irresponsible.”
Cutting funding for M-NCPP this year would mean a loss of 20 percent of funding to summer youth programs, reducing hours of operation by 10 percent to 30 percent at community centers and other public facilities, according to an impact study conducted by M-NCPPC.
Baker said the county needs to emphasize providing better school facilities for children, not parks and planning departments.
“I have to tell you that I am appalled by the council’s decision to increase the property tax rate by five percent on citizens in Prince George’s County. This was an increase that was never discussed during any of our meetings over the last month,” Baker said.
The county has increased taxes to fund M-NCPP 13 times since 1978, Baker said, and another increase did not need to happen this year.
“It is not strategic or visionary. And it is not an unfunded mandate from the state,” Baker said.
Franklin disagreed with Baker, saying the tax is necessary because if it is not imposed this year, it must be imposed in the future and the cost will be greater because of the county’s structural deficit.
Lehman, who voted against the council’s overall budget last week, voted to support the override of Baker’s veto because the council needs to be unified in their approach to fixing the county’s deficits.
The council needs to work with M-NCPP, Lehman said, to reduce the project charges that have gotten out of control.
Despite the obvious differences between Baker and the council, both sides insist that there are no problems. Baker said it is a matter of “difference on issues.”
“The relationship with the council is just that we disagree with what the priorities of the county are and where we need to make improvement,” Baker said. “We disagree fundamentally on what would move this county forward and I think that’s just it.”
Franklin said there may be a lapse of communication between Baker and his staff causing the disagreements. Baker had staff present during some of the public sessions where the council discussed the planning tax, Franklin said.
“They heard, in detail, the conversation about the various scenarios of rate increases and what could happen if we don’t do anything,” Franklin said. “We still will work together with the County Executive on all kinds of issues. There is no sort of schism between the County Executive and the County Council. It’s just that these are the natural checks and balances of government.”
“It wasn’t done in a way, in terms of timing, where our residents got to hear it. It wasn’t out there when we were having our public hearings,” Lehman said. “The information needs to be out there in a transparent way so our residents can react. That is something that concerns me.”
Instead of continuing to raise taxes to aid M-NCPP and other county operations, Judy Robinson, a community activist and retired M-NCPP secretary, said, the county should look to cut expenses and reduce spending.
“My budget had to go down because I’m not working full time anymore. When you can’t afford things, what do you do? You cut expenses,” Robinson said. “That’s absolutely what our government needs to do. We need to cut expenses.”
The citizens asked for no tax increases, Robinson said, even if they were minimal and did not go toward education. Citizens still are not going to be happy with the smaller tax increases and having their money go to M-NCPP.
No decisions on the overall budget have been made, Baker said. According to Thomas Himler, deputy chief administrative officer in Baker’s office, the executive has until June 16 to make any other decisions.