FORT WASHINGTON – The Prince George’s County Council and more than 100 residents from the community came to the construction site for the postponed District 7 police station to show their disappointment in the county executive’s decision. The necessity for the new police station in District 7 is growing by the day, said Councilman Obie […]
FORT WASHINGTON – The Prince George’s County Council and more than 100 residents from the community came to the construction site for the postponed District 7 police station to show their disappointment in the county executive’s decision.
The necessity for the new police station in District 7 is growing by the day, said Councilman Obie Patterson. There have been four murders in the city over the last few weeks, he said, and it takes too long for police to arrive on scene. This station would help with matters.
The people of Fort Washington and District 7 have waited long enough for this building, Patterson said, and they want it open on time.
“Nothing trumps the safety of the people,” Patterson said. “As the Prince George’s County chair Mel Franklin and I sit down for a discussion with the county executive, we are telling him that he made a promise and he should not renege on what was promised.”
Last week, Baker announced that because the council cut two percent of funds from all agencies across the county, including the police department, the county is not going to be able to open the District 7 police station until September 2016.
The two percent cut from the police department amounts to $9 million in police funding, according to Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Public Safety Barry Stanton. Because of that $9 million loss, two of three police academy classes had to be cut from the PGPD’s budget and that affected the county’s ability to properly staff the building.
While the angst of the people is justifiable, Baker said, the building cannot be adequately staffed because of the council’s adopted budget.
“I share their disappointment, but it is an unfortunate consequence of the Fiscal Year 2016 Budget that the County Council recently approved after I vetoed it,” said Baker. “My proposed budget included funding that would have ensured the District VII Police Station opened in a timely manner.”
However, according to Franklin, while the council did make a two percent cut, they set aside $25 million in emergency funds for situations such as this one. Baker can open the building with that money, Franklin said.
“There is $25 million in the county’s budget for contingency purposes or emergencies and this building is an emergency,” Franklin said. “If we can afford a brand new headquarters for county government, then we can certainly afford to have a police station opened in Fort Washington.”
The council asked each agency in the county to set aside two percent of their budget and part of their overtime budget for this contingency funding, Franklin said. That totaled $25 million, he said, and is to be used for any fiscal issues such as this one.
The purpose of setting aside this funding, Franklin said, is because the county’s restricted fund balance is set at zero because of issues of overspending in the past.
Councilwoman Karen Toles said the council stands united on the issue of the District 7 police station. Baker has used money in the past, without the council knowing, the purchase a building in Largo with plans of moving the county headquarters to a more central location, Toles said.
“The administration wants to open a luxurious new building in Largo but they can’t change priorities whenever they feel like it,” Toles said.
Baker purchased a $21 million building at 1301 McCormick Dr. in Largo earlier this year. The administration attempted to renovate the building with $12 million out of their capital funds, according to Toles, however, the council rejected that attempt.
The council did not know Baker had plans of moving the county’s headquarters, Toles said, and Baker purchased the building without notifying the council.
While the current location of the county’s administration building might not be the most convenient, Franklin said, that is not the best reason for changing locations.
“This station is sitting closed while we move to a brand new headquarters in Largo. I can’t support that if this station stays closed,” Franklin said. “Moving county government makes no sense if it’s not about economic development and jobs. Moving for convenience and new offices is a terrible idea.”
State Senator C. Anthony Muse (D-26) said that if the county can make residents wait 15 years for this new Fort Washington location, then they should be able to wait two years to move the county administration building.
“Open this station,” said Muse. “If we can wait for 15 years for this, they can wait two years to move the county administration building.”
If the county cannot afford to open this police station, Franklin said, they should not be able to afford to move the county headquarters at the moment either. Safety is still a priority for Baker, Franklin said, however he is still playing the “blame game” over the budget disagreement the council and the administration had earlier in the year.
“We have to move beyond that and any kind of blame game. We need to have a discussion and we are open to doing so,” Franklin said.
South County Economic Development Association President Earl T. O’Neal said that Baker’s postponement of the opening of the station is “an affront” to the citizens of southern Prince George’s County. This decision will undo “years of hard work,” he said, to stress the commitment the county has to providing a safe environment for its citizens.
“Your decision violates the trust placed in you, evidenced by our votes for you, to act on our behalf and in our best interest,” O’Neal said to Baker. “Your decision and the manner in which it was executed may have caused irreparable harm to the trust of your administration by the businesses and people of South County.”
Baker notified the council that the postponement of this station would be a possibility if they adopted their proposed budget. “Not one council member,” Baker said, asked for clarification or raised any concern about the matter.
Still, Baker said, the police department will remain committed to serving the District 7 area and all of the county. Crime has fallen by 12 percent in the last year in that area, he said, and the police will continue to provide that same effort.
Franklin and Patterson both said they plan on sitting down with the county executive to see what needs to be done to open the station in a timely fashion.