FORT WASHINGTON – The county local development council (LDC) is off to a slow start, but is trying to make progress in fulfilling its mission to advise the government on the use of MGM revenues. At a public meeting held April 27, the LDC voted to approve spending recommendations sent by County Executive Rushern Baker […]
FORT WASHINGTON – The county local development council (LDC) is off to a slow start, but is trying to make progress in fulfilling its mission to advise the government on the use of MGM revenues.
At a public meeting held April 27, the LDC voted to approve spending recommendations sent by County Executive Rushern Baker III, but tabled a decision on the radius to be counted as “immediate vicinity” of the forthcoming MGM casino at National Harbor.
A quorum of LDC members voted 8-0 to go along with the spending plan proposed by Baker for approximately $4.5 million projected to be paid to the county in taxes from video lottery terminals at MGM for fiscal year 2017 (FY17). In 2015, the county council mandated that 50 percent of those funds go to education. Baker’s plan has the rest going to police (17.5 percent), fire (12.5 percent), workforce development (7.5 percent), youth employment programs (7.5 percent) and community impact grants (5 percent).
Baker also submitted spending proposals for FY18 through FY20, which would also allocate money for high school student scholarships and for health and human services programs. However, the LDC made clear its approval was only for the FY17 plan.
LDC member Zeno St. Cyr said the council was constrained by deadlines in the county’s budget process for FY17, but in future years they want more time to work on the plan.
“For 2018 and beyond, we do not want to be locked into these areas of spending. We would like to have more input early on in the process in order to determine whether some of those areas are worthwhile for continued funding or whether we would want to recommend different areas of funding,” he said.
LDC Chair C. Anthony Muse, a state senator, said the council will also convey other stipulations to Baker’s office.
“(We are concerned with) making sure the impacted funds, we get as much as we can above and beyond what our tax dollars are to be paying for, that we’re not supplanting funds, and then to say some of the funds should be reimbursable to us,” he said.
Council members were united in their concern that some of the money in Baker’s proposal goes to projects that should be funded by the county through normal tax revenues. Of particular concern was the decision to use these funds to pay for staffing at the District 7 police station.
“In particular, we were concerned about the spending that is designated for public safety. The concern that many of the LDC members, as well as members of the public, raised was that perhaps that funding is monies that should come out of the county budget,” St. Cyr said.
The council also stipulated that while it is recommending some funds be used for improving Route 210, they expect the county to get the state to pay back those costs, since Route 210 is a state road. And they want that reimbursement to be directed to the LDC and not put into the county’s general fund.
“We believe that precedent has been set from other jurisdictions in Maryland that those funds used to pay for a state road project, the money has been reimbursed when requested by the county,” St. Cyr said.
Muse said changes to state law may adversely affect that process. The General Assembly passed the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016this session, which sets a formula for determining which transportation projects get funding priority. In the past that decision was made by the governor, and Muse said he is unsure how the new formula would weight Prince George’s County requests.
“Now our projects will be ranked alongside the entire state. I want to bring (the State Highway Administration) in to see how this new formula now affects it and what you and I and others would have a say about this. It may be irrelevant based on the bill,” he said.
Residents at the meeting expressed some reservations about the LDC decision not to recommend any changes to the FY17 plan. They were concerned the plan includes projects like bringing schools up to code and police staffing that should be funded elsewhere in the county budget, and it set a bad precedent not to argue against it at the first opportunity.
“These are impact funds you’re touching on. It’s important to make sure that they stay here,” Fort Washington resident Jay Krueger said. “I think it’s a good start, but please pay further attention to some of this so we don’t just accept what’s being taken, that I think are supplanting funds that already should be done with our tax dollars.”
Although the LDC did not agree with residents on this issue, they did listen to them on the subject of establishing a three-mile radius as the boundary for defining the impacted area eligible for MGM local impact grant money.
Council members and community groups alike had concerns about that radius, so the decision to implement it was put off, Muse said.
“Members turned out from the community and they had concerns, and we did not even want to give the appearance, after saying this is a community group, that we would not take their concerns very seriously,” he said. “So we want to sit down and figure out what does a three-mile radius mean? Is there some compromise we could possibly make?”
Community members included several Camp Springs residents, like President of the Camp Springs Civic Association Tammy Jones. She said Camp Springs is home to the closest Metro station to MGM, many hotels and roadways that serve overflow from the casino, and Crossland High School, which has technology and career programs that would produce employees in fields desired by MGM.
“I’m here today to advocate for extending that three-mile radius to five miles. As we talk about the impact and the funding that is used, I just wanted to reiterate that there could be scholarships to support these students, there could be small businesses that could use some grants,” she said.
The LDC will re-examine the issue and come back with answers or, potentially, changes in the recommendations within the next 30 days.
Also within the next month or so, the LDC chair and vice-chair will establish subcommittees to enable the council to have more in-depth discussions on issues. The committees might include transportation, public outreach, grants, and needs assessment, St. Cyr said.
LDC Member Minervia Riddick said it would also help the council be more effective if it had a clearer idea of how much staff assistance it would be getting from the county government for things like research.
“For the sake of continuity, for the sake of relationship with the county, we’d like to have more input on what that staff support will be,” she said.