UPPER MARLBORO – With 2016 drawing to a close, county council members looked back on the past year and agreed it was a productive one. “I evaluate the success of the year – as vice chair you look at it from the council body – and we got things done,” said council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros. […]
UPPER MARLBORO – With 2016 drawing to a close, county council members looked back on the past year and agreed it was a productive one.
“I evaluate the success of the year – as vice chair you look at it from the council body – and we got things done,” said council Vice-Chair Dannielle Glaros. “I am the type of person who’s not easily satisfied, so were there things I wish we had done faster? Yes. But I think there was a lot of good work done.”
Chair Derrick Davis agreed.
“Ultimately, everything that was a priority, we took at least a baby step forward on. None of this stuff is going to happen overnight,” he said.
2016 was Davis’ first year as chair, which he said did present more challenges than serving as a typical councilmember, because as chair he has to have an eye to the county as a whole and balance competing needs in all nine districts.
“I have a saying, we do things on purpose and with purpose. That is the imagery that I hope my year of leadership put out to Prince Georgians and the business community,” he said. “It’s the challenge of being an at-large thinker, striving to facilitate the greater good across the board and make sure that resources get stretched from Accokeek to Laurel.”
Both leaders pointed to several pieces of legislation passed by the council this year that they feel demonstrates the commitment to Prince Georgians throughout the county. The update to the taxicab regulations in the county was mentioned by both Glaros and Davis as an important accomplishment this year. Among other things, the legislation increased protections for disabled taxi patrons and put in place steps for modernizing the county’s fleet.
“The taxicab legislation was always something that we, historically, found challenging. I’m really proud of the transportation, housing and environment committee for bringing it to a good consensus, and a good start,” Davis said. “It’s a shining example of the great, great work we were able to pull off.”
Councilman Todd Turner, chair of that committee, took the lead on the bill.
Both Davis and Glaros also mentioned the work of another committee, the ad-hoc committee on comprehensive housing strategy, formed this year to look at availability of housing in the county and begin studying ways to make it even more available for seniors, those with low incomes and even middle-income households, Glaros said.
“We were able to really look at how we in Prince George’s County view our existing housing stock,” Davis said. “We brought together developers of all kinds. We were able to get request for proposals (RFD) out on the street to take a deep dive into what the future of Prince George’s looks like when it comes to housing.”
Glaros said another important legislative accomplishment was the urban farms legislation passed early in the year, which expands urban farming to new areas and new business models.
“It enables us to be able to see urban farms in the county. Not chickens or goats or anything like that, but agriculture, and it encourages local entrepreneurs and the creation of value-added products,” she said.
The county also became the first in Maryland to ban hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, a new way to harvest natural gas that studies have shown has detrimental impacts to the environment.
“We’ve always been environmentally conscious. I think we oftentimes are pioneers,” Davis said. “Sometimes being a pioneer makes for challenges but I think in this case it created a lot of opportunity for others to follow.”
The state of Maryland is currently in the process of making its own regulations for fracking, which is supported by western counties as an economic driver.
Prince George’s County’s ban was championed by District 1 Councilwoman Mary Lehman.
Glaros said other policies aimed at protecting the environment, passed by the council in previous years, went into effect in 2016. The county’s ban on Styrofoam products, including cups, packaging, packing peanuts and more, went into effect July 1, making it illegal for business to use or sell those products here. Also on July 1, a measure to increase recycling in the county went into effect.
“Almost three years ago there was a bill passed that said by July 1 of 2016 our businesses needed to comply with on-site recycling,” Glaros said.
The council also passed a bill that, ultimately, the voters had the last say on. Question D, a council proposal to add two at-large seats to the body, appeared as a referendum on the November ballot, and 66.7 percent of voters approved it. The council will now begin the process of preparing for those two new members, who will be elected in 2018.
“Voters gave us the opportunity to grow and have a broader, less myopic perspective on Prince George’s County and how it operates in the Washington Metropolitan region,” said Davis, a strong supporter of the effort.
Glaros said she wasn’t sure leading into the election if the measure would pass or fail. The focus now is on working out the details on how the new members would be integrated into the existing body, she said.
Aside from legislation, the council’s biggest responsibility is approving the county budget each year. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget passed without the controversy that surrounded the FY16 budget process. Davis said he was pleased the FY17 budget includes more money for education and funds a new initiative aimed at curbing domestic violence, an effort which he says is expanding.
“We spent a lot of time after the budget was through to develop an RFP to invite non-profits to help be a part of our fight,” he said.
Glaros said an important aspect of the budget for her was the investments made in the county’s health and human services and social services departments. She said funding those agencies is a good precedent that the council should keep following.
“It’s an investment that we have to continue making. For years this county has severely underinvested in our health and our social services, and we’ve got to start putting our county dollars in that,” she said.
She said the budget also included money for the county department of permitting, inspections and enforcement (DPIE) to step up enforcement of code violations through a new administrative court. Glaros said legislation spelling out how to create and run the court- modeled off of one in Baltimore City- will be forthcoming in 2017.
She said many new development projects are anticipated for the year ahead.
“It’s a year where you’re going to see a lot of projects move forward, a lot of groundbreakings, ribbon cuttings, openings. And a lot of it will be in key areas for growth,” Glaros said. “They’re not going to be as big as MGM, but it’s pretty significant.”
Davis said 2017 will see the continuation of many projects begun in 2016. The ad hoc housing committee will continue its work, and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Addressing the Structural Deficit, created by the council to look at the county’s long-term financial health, will issue its report. The complete rewrite of the county’s zoning ordinance will also see fruition next year.
He said tackling the big issues like that takes time, but the council as a whole can make things happen by working together.
“Doing big things on purpose takes time, lots of effort, lots of consensus and evaluation,” he said. “The things we do take far longer than the time we are allowed to serve, so we have to plant deep. I really enjoy that I have eight other members committed to the progress.”