UPPER MARLBORO – Council committees have been busy combing through the proposed fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget in advance of the deadline for enactment. The standing committees have invited representatives from all the county agencies and departments to worksessions where they present their budget proposals and face questions from council members about how taxpayer dollars […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Council committees have been busy combing through the proposed fiscal year 2017 (FY17) budget in advance of the deadline for enactment.
The standing committees have invited representatives from all the county agencies and departments to worksessions where they present their budget proposals and face questions from council members about how taxpayer dollars are spent and the results the agencies have been generating.
The public safety and fiscal management committee convened on May 9 to hear from Chief of the Prince George’s County Police Department (PGPD) Hank Stawinski and his team, and fire department Chief Marc Bashoor, about the proposals for their departments.
The police department budget is proposed at approximately $312.5 million, a 3.3 percent increase from the current fiscal year. Several council members raised questions about specific areas where additional funding was requested.
Councilman Obie Patterson questioned the department’s rising costs for administrative contracts.
PGPD Comptroller Angela Fair explained that a major factor driving up costs is the aging helicopter units. The contract for maintenance on the two helicopters has risen from nearly $400,000 to almost $700,000 today, she said.
“The older the aircraft, the more maintenance hours you have to put into it. Until we can get at least one of those helicopters replaced, we’re going to still be increasing our administrative contracts each year,” Fair said.
Councilwoman Mary Lehman noted the staff for the automated speed enforcement program doubles in the FY17 proposal, from 13 to 26, and questioned that expenditure.
“I would question whether doubling it is justifiable. That unit certainly generates a lot of money. You hire more personnel and suddenly it’s not generating so much money,” she said.
Stawinski admitted that while more personnel is needed to ensure a timely review of each citation the speed cameras issue, the department may not need quite that many people assigned to the task.
“I’m not sure I agree with the total number here, but there is a need for additional staff to keep the review process moving forward,” he said.
Staffing concerns played a major role in the committee’s questions to the fire department’s Bashoor as well. The county Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department and the Volunteer Fire Commission together proposed a $180.1 million budget, which is an 8.6 percent increase over FY 2016. The department is also likely to submit a FY16 supplemental budget request for $13.8 million, which will include $7 million for overtime pay.
Councilman Todd Turner asked Bashoor for ideas the department is using to reduce these overtime expenditures.
Bashoor said the department was already taking the steps it can to cut overtime costs.
“The only two ways we can reduce it is increase staffing or decrease what we cover. From my perspective, as far as career staffing, we have decreased (coverage) at as many places as we can without further compromising response time,” he said.
He added the fire union would prefer to maintain staffing levels, putting them at odds.
Bashoor also said there have been some savings as a result of municipalities signing onto the Volunteer Staffing Utilization program.
“Every few thousand dollars adds up,” he said.
A few days later on May 11, it was the county Economic Development Corporation’s (EDC) turn to face a council committee. Members of the planning, zoning and economic development (PZED) committee gave EDC Chief Executive Officer Jim Coleman a few requests for additional information as they discussed the FY17 budget proposal of about $9.3 million, which includes $2.9 million (a 3.1 percent increase) from the county government. The other money comes from program revenues.
Coleman’s presentation highlighted the programs and initiatives the EDC has been pursuing, as well as economic data about county employment, business growth and more. He said the county unemployment rate is 4.8 percent, lower than the national average of 5 percent, according to the Maryland Department of Labor.
Council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros said she wanted additional information regarding that figure, specifically the differences in unemployment in different areas of the county.
“I really would like us to take a look at – by zipcode or CensusTrack or however it’s tracked – where our high pockets of unemployment are. I think we need to figure out not only how we do a broad brush approach on workforce development, but how we zero in and do it much more targeted,” she said.
In a similar vein, Councilwoman Karen Toles said she wanted to see more done specifically for inner-Beltway communities, which she said have different needs and strengths than other neighborhoods.
Coleman also provided an update on the use of the Economic Development Incentive (EDI) Fund. Coleman said 33 loans totaling $23 million from this fund have been approved, with $18.1 million in loans actually funded.
Councilwoman Andrea Harrison, chair of the PZED committee, said the committee had heard a different set of numbers from the financial services corporation. She also peppered Coleman with questions about the types of loans awarded, whether they would be forgiven or paid back, and what benefits the county has seen from the program, especially how it compares to projected future investment.
“What I would like to see is a chart that says, from inception to whatever date, we’ve made $23 million in loans, we know that at this point we have received this return on our investment. And that includes tax revenue, the loan repayment, the actual number of jobs created. I think that’s important for us to understand,” she said.
Coleman said he would work on getting the information.
After all the committee worksessions conclude this week, the full county council will convene at 11 a.m. on May 26 to adopt the FY17 budget.