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COLLEGE PARK – The Prince George’s County Council set their priorities for the 2019 legislative year through their annual retreat on Jan. 7-8 in The Hotel at the University of Maryland in College Park.
The two-day conference is designed to not only look back on the previous year in the county but to get the council members working together in order to set the tone for a successful legislative year.
However, this year’s retreat has a mix of new blood with the addition of six new members, including two At-Large representatives. It would become the first time the council reunited following a month filled with inaugurations and the switching of roles.
Council Chair Todd M. Turner (District 4) expressed the need of making sure all members were on “the same page” before their first council meeting on Jan. 15.
“Particularly this year, since we have new council members coming on, a former council member and even a new state delegate,” Turner said. “Obviously, they haven’t been directly involved with the council activities for years so getting them up to speed with what we do, some of the administrative stuff and how we are going to operate as a council is some of the things we try to discuss in the retreat.”
During the two-day retreat, council members received new budget information for the county, updates on the new University of Maryland Medical System hospital in Largo, reports on their grant programs and checking up on their council imitative projects including the Tax Credit Reform Commission, Comprehensive Housing Strategy and the PGCPS Performance Audit.
The return also comes in the middle of the 2019 Fiscal Year and a $4-billion budget that the Council and former County Executive Rushern Baker III approved last May.
It was hailed as a success by the council, as it included $2.05 billion in funding for the Board of Education and a $9 million infusion into the Economic Development Incentive (EDI) Fund to retain/create 12,000 jobs in the county.
“This spending plan continues to help the Council and the Administration achieve our shared goal of investing in priorities that make life better for Prince Georgians,” Former Council Chair Dannielle Glaros (District 3) said on May 24.
The extra infusion of funding may have led positive job growth in the county. According to a county jobs growth report presented by Acting Chief Administrative Officer Major Riddick and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Stanley Earley, the county had an average net gain of 776 jobs or 0.2 percent growth between the first quarters of 2017 and 2018.
While it is the lowest compared to neighboring counties Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Montgomery, the data provided to the council will be essential as the county begins designating where funds will be spent in the budget for the 2020 fiscal year. The new budget will need to be implemented by July 1, Turner said.
“This, at least, puts council members of the mindset of where we are and to think realistically of the things that we would like to accomplish,” said Turner. “Everyone is coming off an election year, and everyone wants to fulfill their promises that they want to focus in on.
“The retreat, obviously through the budget discussion, at least gives us the floor of where we are in the county as we consider the new county executive’s budget that will be submitted in March.”
Guests appeared throughout the two days to provide remarks directly to the council. Montgomery County Council At-Large Member Hans Reimer and District of Columbia City Council Member Rob White stopped by to provide insight on how to best utilize the two new At-Large Members.
Under the new role, both Mel Franklin and Calvin S. Hawkins II are expected to represent the county’s needs as a whole and not as representatives of a certain district.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks also attended the retreat, addressing the need to focus on education, workforce development, county beautification, and transportation to the council. Their partnership will be crucial as budget talks are set to being in March.
On Jan. 30, her office has arranged a “community conversation” meeting for the public to meet her and members of her staff while learning more about her 2019 legislative agenda items and priorities for the Fiscal Year 2020 Budget.
“I think what we are all aware that this is a time of change, and also a time of uncertainty,” said Alsobrooks. “And I think we have an opportunity, together, to provide for Prince Georgians the kind of stability, sure-footedness and impactful legislation that will change their lives.”