UPPER MARLBORO – The county council is providing additional funding for education, in-need populations and infrastructure in its approved fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget. The council voted unanimously to pass the budget at a special meeting on May 25. The final document includes almost $3.88 billion in expenditures, an increase of $20.9 million in general […]
UPPER MARLBORO – The county council is providing additional funding for education, in-need populations and infrastructure in its approved fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget.
The council voted unanimously to pass the budget at a special meeting on May 25. The final document includes almost $3.88 billion in expenditures, an increase of $20.9 million in general fund expenditures. The budget is still balanced, as required by county charter.
Council Chair Derrick Davis said the council approached the budget process this year with “cautious optimism” based on improving revenues but the knowledge that the county’s financial structure isn’t as resilient as others in the region.
“They’ve been a very multi-year council knowing that we are not in a position, in Prince George’s County, to solve all of our problems in a budget cycle,” Davis said. “Recession, when it hits, hits everybody at the same time. Different jurisdictions have the ability to put the brakes on recession. We don’t.”
Nevertheless, the council was able to put money toward quality of life, transit-oriented development, cost-of-living pay increases for employees, road resurfacing, litter clean-up efforts and more, Davis said.
“You will see our shared values reflected in continued investments in public education, public infrastructure, economic development, improved human service delivery, safe communities and support for the county’s most vulnerable residents,” he said.
Among the changes the council made was allocating $3.5 million of Economic Development Impact Fund (EDI Fund) monies to help address the wage gap facing direct service providers serving the approximately 2,800 county residents with developmental disabilities. The state of Maryland funds these entities and bases pay rates on the state minimum wage, which is $2 lower than Prince George’s County’s minimum.
Davis said this was the main point of contention between the legislative and executive branches, and although it was difficult to find a way to provide this one-time funding, the council made it their top priority this budget year.
“This is one of those things where you don’t get an answer that’s exact. In essence, you’re always trying to fumble to find what the best way to do something is,” he said. “We had to go through the calculus of figuring out how to do it. Our hope is that it, by the state of Maryland, will be taken care of.”
Several county departments also saw modest increases in their operating budget. The circuit court saw a $62,000 increase to provide for a new position in the budget office there; the office of community relations had its budget rise by $50,000 for additional language access initiatives, and the board of license commissioners- also known as the liquor board- had a budget increase of $50,000 to hire a state-mandated consultant to review standard operating procedures there in the wake of scandal.
The council was also aware of the potential impacts of federal decisions on the county, and made adjustments accordingly.
“I’m extremely concerned about the budget nationally,” Davis said. “If, in fact, something occurs in Washington where they begin to lay folks off, cuts at the government, CDBG (Community Development Block Grants), you name it, all of those things will impact us negatively. Medicare, big time.”
The council appropriated $286,000 more for the Department of Social Services operating budget for emergency placement services and homeless prevention/rapid rehousing and aid to elders to replace funding cut at the federal level, as well as $1.5 million more for the Department of Housing and Community Development for their housing rehabilitation assistance program that had been funded through CDBG as well.
Council Vice Chair Dannielle Glaros said such investments are important.
“Probably for me, the biggest thing – and I’ve said this from the very beginning when I started in office – we do not invest enough of our dollars in our health, in our human services, in our social services. I’m incredibly proud every year when we come together to do greater investment in those categories,” she said.
The council also added $250,000 toward the fire/EMS department and volunteer fire/EMS recruiting efforts and increased the volunteer fire commission’s budget for equipment purchases by $140,000. The council also gave itself money “to support selected public-private initiatives,” according to documents, with $550,000 added to county council operating expenses.
Education expenditures make up the largest portion of the approved budget. Although the Prince George’s County Board of Education requested $2.05 billion for FY18, and the county proposal includes $1.97 billion, which is about $12.5 million more than was included in the county executive’s original proposal but less than the additional $36 million the school system requested.
“Funding the school system’s proposed budget would have required a significant tax increase,” Davis said. “There is no tax increase in the budget we adopted today.”
The additional funds for the board of education come from the school system’s fund balance, and are designed to provide greater “flexibility” in the budget. Additionally, the council devoted $5 million more of the county’s Capital Improvements Program (CIP) funding to the school system for maintenance needs. The total price tag for the school upgrades and maintenance CIP the system has devised is $300 million each year. The county has authorized $100 million this fiscal year, with $40 million from the state, according to Glaros.
The council members acknowledged that being unable to provide funding for all of the school system’s capital needs is frustrating for them, but they are meeting their obligations.
“Where everybody felt the pain was in regards to the investment in the school. Because despite the fact that we put a lot of money into repairing buildings and equipment into the schools, the need is so vast,” Councilmember Deni Taveras said. “At the point where we are right now, a lot of the schools that we would have liked to see keyed up got pushed out.”
Councilman Todd Turner added, “It is $51 million more than they got last year,” and Councilwoman Mary Lehman added that was “a record.” The budget exceeds maintenance of effort by $30 million.
Other education-related expenditures initiated by the council include $2.4 million more for Prince George’s Community College to pay for the expanded health services program and other initiatives, and $300,000 for the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System to pay for new circulation materials.
Other CIP changes initiated by the council include money to pay for the reconstruction of the Tucker Road Ice Rink and a new Mount Rainier south park for $75,000 in FY18, and the addition of the Baden Library project and a county food distribution center to connect residents with locally-grown produce, both slated for funding starting in FY20.
The county executive has 10 days to review the budget and decide whether to exercise his veto power. If he accepts, it will go into effect July 1.