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LARGO – County Executive Angela Alsobrooks presented a proposed $3.5 billion budget for the fiscal year 2020 on March 14, centered around the continued focus on education, increased security in the county and the first of many beautification projects by reintroducing a food waste pick-up program.
During her presentation, the county executive announced the budget, which experienced a three percent increase from the previous year, as an important step forward of completing her campaign objectives after being elected in November.
“The vision we have articulated over and over again is that we are excited in the pride we are developing in Prince George’s County,” Alsobrooks said.
In her proposal, 60 percent of the budget was allocated to education, continuing a previous trend completed during the Baker Administration, Alsobrooks said. Of the $3.5 billion proposed budget, $2.092 billion is going towards the school system, a 2.2 percent increase over last year. While acknowledging that the Board of Educated requested more county funding, she said that the possible approval of school construction bills in the Maryland Senate and payments from the Kirwan Commission would add more state money to Prince George’s County Public Schools (PGCPS).
The county executive has spent “about two days a week” for the past three months together with school officials in Annapolis, championing the need for more state funds for school improvement needs, PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldston said.
“It is evident that our county executive is continuing to focus on education,” Goldston said. “You can see today that (over) 60 percent of the operating budget goes towards education and so what she says she does or focuses on; it is evident in what you saw…this is a great example of when the school system, local government and our state are saying the same thing.”
If school funding bills pass the state Senate and are signed into law, Alsobrooks said she expects “super funding” from the state to be added to the school system. The amount could range between $25-30 million and be used primarily on construction projects for 18 schools “while saving millions” for the county.
“We feel no shame going to Annapolis, and we have been very aggressive and unapologetic in our request for additional construction funding and operational funding,” Alsobrooks said. “And that because we understand that the first obligation of government is to educate children and that is by the Maryland State Constitution that states that the first priority of state government is education.”
The second-most expense on the budget was on public safety which received a moderate increase from last year’s $356.5 million to $361.9 million. Five new police classes to add 100 recruits and funds to improve deployment software and provide personal protective equipment to volunteers were part of the reasons for the increase.
However, the goal of this year’s budget was to spread the funds around into different areas of need as “the pie needs to grow,” Alsobrooks said. One of the noteworthy announcements was the return of a second day for waste pick-up in the form of food waste collection. Under the $200,000 proposal, food waste collections containers would be passed out to residents and would be the second pick-up date.
The content will go to an organic composting facility and sold as Leafgro compost. Funds from the sale of the soil conditioner would return to the county, and if passed with the budget, the program will be phased. According to Alsobrooks, residents approach her regularly on the topic to be a part of her beautification strategy.
“We want (county residents) to know that not only are we listening to them by hearing that they want to the two times a week (pickup) returned but that we are going to make some money and become environmentally responsible,” Alsobrooks said.
The county’s revenue from FY 2019 shot up to $3.43 billion but determining what would be the top priorities on the proposal was a “struggle” because the county’s deficit grew to $48 million.
The process in creating the budget began in early November, and the first drafts of the budget were submitted and reviewed, Management & Budget Director Stanley A. Earley said.
“If we did nothing else and just grew naturally, we grew by $90 million,” Earley said. “The underlying costs because of salary increases, inflation, cost of rent, all those things went up to about $130 million or something, and that is how you get that gap. So, we then had figure out a way where we could do that and not hurt existing services to make spaces for things that the county executive, county council and the community wanted to have.”
While it is expected for the deficit to grow further after this year, Alsobrooks said that it would be important to keep revenue growing by increase commercial property taxes and rely less on residential property taxes, eliminating the burden of the county’s services on its citizens. Of the $3.43 billion in revenue the county received last year, 26.7 percent or $945.7 million came from the collection of all property taxes.
Alsobrooks confirmed that she met with the County Council earlier in the day to give them her proposed budget. She welcomed the opportunity to talk to the council to “maintain ongoing communication.” The council may propose changes before passing a budget in May. The fiscal year 2020 budget is set to go in effect in July.
In a statement, Council Chair Todd Turner echoed the need to work together on the upcoming budget with Alsobrooks’ Administration, stating that the County Council will “engage in a careful and deliberate review” of the proposed budget.
“Addressing the County’s budget priorities in the Fiscal Year 2020 demands efficient and effective management of the County’s finances and we appreciate the great vision, focus, and diligence of the Executive Branch in formulating this proposed spending plan,” Turner said.
Public hearings on the budget will be conducted at multiple sites, starting on April 9 and followed by April 16, 23, 29 and May 7.