RIVERDALE – The last few years have been fiscally tight for the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Property taxes make up nearly 85 percent of the Prince George’s County Planning Board’s budget, said John Kroll, the budget manager for the organization. With the housing market recovering slowly after its bubble burst, revenue for […]
RIVERDALE – The last few years have been fiscally tight for the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC).
Property taxes make up nearly 85 percent of the Prince George’s County Planning Board’s budget, said John Kroll, the budget manager for the organization. With the housing market recovering slowly after its bubble burst, revenue for parks and recreation is lagging behind countywide needs and expenditures.
Last week, the planning board hosted the second of two public hearings on the fiscal year (FY) 2018 planning budget. A little more than a dozen residents spoke at the hearing, though they and M-NCPPC staff filled the hearing room at the organization’s county headquarters in Riverdale.
“This evening we are soliciting your ideas about what you would like to see put in our FY18 operating budget for the commission’s planning department and for the commission’s department of parks and recreations,” said Elizabeth Hewlett, chair of the planning board.
Both Hewlett and Kroll said the upcoming fiscal year’s budget is going to take creativity to balance. With many communities and individuals asking the department for new community centers, improved parks, and small upgrades like improved lighting and more trash cans, Hewlett said the department will have to balance needs across the county and may have to favor one project over another.
“We are continuing to proceed with this fiscally prudent approach to addressing our needs and balancing against the competing needs of the county,” Hewlett said. “You all will come and tell us what your needs are for Prince George’s County…but then they have to be balanced against the competing needs of schools and transportation and other needs for the county, and there’s a finite amount of money.”
The budget for the Prince George’s section of M-NCPPC totaled $296.2 million for every facet of the organization. Of that approximately $223 million went to parks and recreations, with the remainder of the budget used for the planning department, the planning board and other administrative costs.
Kroll said the current budget revenues have not kept up with the current level of services. He said the department has lost nearly $56 million in revenue due to the housing market crash and recovery is too slow to accommodate growing needs as it has only restored about half that amount.
“The (housing) recovery is definitely not occurring at the same pace as the decline occurred. Therefore revenue growth has not yet caught up with the existing level of services,” Kroll said.
He anticipates property tax revenues increasing by $11 million in the coming year. At the same time fixed costs are projected to increase by $19.4 million.
With several budget-balancing challenges before M-NPPC, Kroll said there are some solutions laid out in a new financial plan adopted last year.
“A modest tax rate increase coupled with operating reductions, phased-in fee increases, and substantial capital improvement program reductions allowed us to project to be in relatively good fiscal shape through fiscal year 2023,” he said.
Over the next five years, Kroll said, the planning board has a $107 million capital improvements programs plan, with the bulk of the budget scheduled for 2017 and 2018.
Despite the implications of a tight budget, residents were unabashed in asking for many improvements in community centers and parks and asked for more amenities.
Both County Councilwoman Mary Lehman and College Park Councilman Fazul Kabir attended the meeting to advocate for improvements at Hollywood Recreation Center. Both leaders asked for improved field amenities, particularly the formation of a soccer and cricket field.
“What the residents are asking (is) to add some amenities to the park and they’re asking to add a soccer field and a cricket field and a couple of small items,” Kabir said.
Right now, Kabir said, residents are creating their own goal posts or transporting mobile ones to the field, which he said is “very inconvenient.” The park currently has large softball fields he thinks can be converted.
Another item both Lehman and Kabir agreed on is the opposition to building a stormwater management pond on the site.
“They definitely do not want to lose the mature trees or the picnic pavilion, which would occur if the county’s department of the environment pursues a proposed plan for a 1.5-acre stormwater management pond,” Lehman said. “So please help preserve this parkland and support new active recreational uses.”
Sherri Downing, a councilwoman from Fairmount Heights, asked for improvements to the walking trail at Fairmount Heights Park. Belinda Queen-Howard requested a walking trail in the Wilburn community, while Margaret White asked for some outdoor exercise equipment around the walking trail in her Capitol Heights park.
She also asked for a secured toilet at her park, since the portable toilet has been stolen six times.
“We’d like to ask you if you would just give us a secure toilet,” she said. “We’ve had six out there and the construction workers have stolen all of them.”
Residents asked for increased lighting at their parks and recreation centers and additional picnic tables. One resident asked for more fully-accessible playgrounds so that wheelchair-bound children can enjoy parks, and many stressed the importance of providing countywide programs and centers for senior citizens.
“We were young parents when we started supporting parks and recreation. We’re the ones who were always there and we’re still here,” said Gloria Shelton. “We could very easily add a senior center.”
Kimberly Knox came to the meeting to represent the Port Towns and advocate for residents who have to take the trails to get to work and school and to get groceries.
Knox said the median income in the four cities is approximately $17,000 and her residents often have to make sacrifices to make ends meet. One of those is walking the Anacostia Trail to get around.
“While Maryland-National Park and Planning’s official policy is that the trail is closed from dawn to dusk, if you have to feed your children by walking to work, you’ll take the trail,” she said.
Knox said there is no money budgeted in the FY17 to FY22 plan for safety infrastructure on the trail, but she hopes to see it added for the safety of residents.
“In 2014, unfortunately, one of our young leaders, Everett Robert Brown, was murdered on the trail. We don’t want that to happen to any other communities,” she said.