SEABROOK – Signs have been sprouting around the county urging voters to make their wishes known about Question D, a charter amendment on next Tuesday’s ballot. Question D would create two new at-large seats in the county council, growing the body from nine to 11 members. Individuals who have previously held district-based seats on the […]
SEABROOK – Signs have been sprouting around the county urging voters to make their wishes known about Question D, a charter amendment on next Tuesday’s ballot.
Question D would create two new at-large seats in the county council, growing the body from nine to 11 members. Individuals who have previously held district-based seats on the council would be eligible to run for the at-large seats.
The ballot question has spawned heated debate throughout the county, including multiple public forums and an active citizens’ committee on both sides of the issue. Proponents of the amendment say it will align Prince George’s with other jurisdictions in the region and increase economic development, while opponents object to the way the issue has been handled by the county council, the cost involved and the potential ramifications.
The county estimates the cost for the two new members at more than $1 million yearly by 2020. Tamara Davis Brown with the “No on Question D” campaign said since the county is already facing difficult budget decisions, she feels her tax dollars could be put to better use.
“We’ve cut some essential services in the county (like trash pick-up decreasing to once a week),” Davis Brown said. “There are some things we need. I would much rather pay for staffing police officers at the new District VII station that already opened than for two new politicians.”
Proponents of the measure say the at-large members will mean more economic development in the county, which will offset the costs.
“Right now, the county relies almost exclusively on property taxes to pay for government services. Prince George’s County voters have already said they don’t want to see tax increases,” said Joseph Solomon, a city councilman in Hyattsville who supports Question D. “We’ve already seen services cut. What Question D does is allows us to grow our business tax base so we have another way of funding government.”
Solomon said most of the neighboring jurisdictions have at-large seats, as do several municipalities within the county, such as Laurel, Greenbelt and Bowie.
“They are all seeing development. This is a proven method,” he said. “Because you have people who are able to rise above the fray of fighting for just their district and think about the jurisdiction as a whole.”
He added that constituent services could improve, because each resident would have three members representing them instead of just one.
“This is an opportunity to provide two council members who can be more responsive to the entire county,” Solomon said. “The odds of improved constituent services are improved by two-thirds with just one vote.”
But Davis Brown said part of her concerns with the measure is what she sees as a lack of care for constituents from current members. The bill was introduced during the summer, when many people are on vacation, and said she feels very little notice was given, making it hard for residents to attend the hearing and make their opinion known.
“It was a very specious way to get it passed,” she said.
Davis Brown said she would consider supporting at-large seats if the proposal took affect a few years from now, after the current county council members who proposed it are out of office.
“Why they couldn’t wait, I have an idea. I can only speculate that it’s to benefit the political careers of the current council members,” she said. “It seems self-serving. The residents have already voted for term limits, and this seems to violate the spirit of those votes.”
During the council’s discussions on the issue, Chair Derrick Davis said the measure was “the furthest thing from personal” and only for the benefit of the county.
Davis Brown also said she was concerned about the influence of developers. Campaign finance documents filed by ReCharge at Large on Oct. 14 shows $30,000 in contributions from development companies such as Southern Management and W.F. Chesley Real Estate.
“No on Question D,” in their Oct. 23 filing, reported $3,045 in receipts in amounts ranging from $20 to $1,500. These donations came from citizens and a citizen group; the fundraising organizations of two candidates from prior elections – Tom Dernoga and Joseline Peña-Melnyk – and one small business.
Davis Brown said she feels developers and residents often have different interests, and the high cost of running for county-wide office would mean the at-large members would rely on big-spending donors like developers.
“We think people who run will be funded by the developers, just as this campaign is,” Davis Brown said. “It’s really pushed by developers to control the votes of the at-large members. They (developers) have different interests than the citizens. Citizens are always, in my opinion, the last to be considered when it comes to development.”
Solomon said he finds those concerns interesting, because those same developers have given money to Democratic candidates in the past.
“They have contributed money to the entire Democratic ticket every election cycle. Now all of a sudden people are concerned with funding?” he said. “It’s not a matter of who is funding it, it’s a matter of what is good for the county.”
Ultimately, the voters will make the decision on what they think is good for Prince George’s County when they visit the ballot box.