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LARGO — The Prince George’s County Council held a town hall meeting to ensure that the community understands how the budget process works and is aware of the progress being made up to this point as well as to hear feedback from the residents of Prince George’s County on what they want to be included in the budget on Feb. 26.
County Council Chair Todd Turner opened the meeting by emphasizing the council’s commitment to an open and inclusive and participatory budget process. The council’s theme this year is service, community and progress “because only through the service of the community can Prince George’s County progress.”
“Public participation is something we value as members of the county council and we want to make sure our citizenry is engaged,” Turner said.
Before the public comments could get underway, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Stanley Earley gave an overview of the county’s finances and explained that in several areas while the county is still progressing, overall growth has started to slow down in comparison to previous years.
An example of this is the county’s job outlook. According to Earley, Prince George’s County has been a driver in job growth over the past two years. Forty percent of the jobs in Maryland came from Prince George’s County and this county ranked 21st in job growth of counties throughout the entire nation.
While the upward trend of job growth is continuing, it has started to level out. The same can be said for housing trends which, according to Earley, are back where they were before the recession, but growth is beginning to slow down.
Each year, Earley said, the county creates a six-year forecast of finances that includes expenditures and revenues and assumes that we spend exactly the way we are spending now.
“Over time, that trend would be that we get further and further behind,” Earley said. “What we would do is there would be adjustments because we have, but right now we do have a gap, and that gap slowly goes from $48 million this coming year to $125 million out six years.
“We will, the executive, the council, will do the necessary things to make sure we won’t have that, but that’s just the baseline trend.”
Despite this, Earley called the overall fiscal outlook for Prince George’s County “optimistic.”
Turkeesa Green, the deputy county auditor for the Office of Audits and Investigation, also gave a brief presentation explaining the county’s budget processes more in-depth and the council’s role in the process.
She explained that there are four different budgets that the county deals with; the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), Prince George’s County Public Schools, bi-county agencies the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and Suburban Sanitary Commission, and the operating budget which was what was discussed at the meeting.
“For fiscal year 2020, the Spending Affordability Committee is recommending a general fund revenue level of $3.5 billion, which is an $89 million increase, or 3 percent, above the fiscal year 2019 approved level,” Green said.
The budget has generally increased since 2004, although it leveled off and decreased in 2010. It began to rise again until recently as a result of improvements to the economy, Green said.
According to Green, 60 percent of the county budget goes to the school system, public safety and criminal justice receives 22 percent and the general government takes the least amount of money at two percent.
Five speakers gave their comments to the council asking for funding for county organizations and building improvements throughout the county. The first speaker was Director of Client Services for Laurel Advocacy and Referral Services Inc. Millicent Nwolisa.
“Our goal is not only to alleviate the immediate crisis but to teach skills and habits that empower people to make financial stability and prevent future crises, and we strive to remain responsive to the growing and changing needs of our community.”
According to Nwolisa, the organization received about $75,000 from the council last fiscal year towards its mission of providing emergency financial assistance in the Laurel community and asked for the council’s continued support.
Executive Director of the Arc for Prince George’s County Robert Malone, spoke about how the county council helped the organization in the past to continue their disability support services after they had trouble keeping up with the county’s minimum wage increase. He also came to ask for the council’s continued support, especially as the General Assembly discusses a statewide minimum wage increase.
Linda Thompson, the vice president of the Glenn Dale Citizens Association, asked that the council keep in mind improvements to a number of buildings in the Glenn Dale area such as Glenn Dale Elementary School which needs wiring, window and HVAC improvements as well as the Glenn Dale Hospital.
Additionally, she asked for the money for improvements to historical sites such as the Marietta House Museum and the 120-year-old Dorsey Chapel.