SEABROOK – Prince George’s County will receive $1.5 billion in state aid for education, youth athletics, beautification and street improvements after months of successful lobbying, said County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
With the 2019 Maryland General Assembly session coming to end on April 8, Alsobrooks claimed success in obtaining funding for the betterment of the county. Together with department heads and county state delegates, nicknamed by the county executive “Team Prince George’s,” Alsobrooks lobbied for several weeks in Annapolis to bring home extra funding.
“I have to tell you the will of this body standing behind me, my colleagues are strong and we are ever-confident that when we go to Annapolis next year, we are going to have not only the structure that we saw but the funding to go with our structure and we are looking forward to that,” Alsobrooks said during a press conference on April 12.
The largest chunk of state aid is going to education, which the county executive called the county’s “top priority” during the legislative session. The passage of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future bill, the county will receive $53 million in funding from the Kirwan Commission. That aid will help increase teacher pay and improve the number of Pre-K opportunities around the county as well as provide more funding for special education.
Related to education was the passing of the Prince George’s County Public-Private Partnership Fund. Also known as a P3 model, PGCPS will now be able to negotiate with a private partner to finance, build and maintain the schools they build, allowing the system to save money on construction costs. According to Alsobrooks, the county has an $8.5 billion backlog in school construction needs, and PGCPS schools are the second oldest in the state, nearly five years older than the state average.
During her presentation on March 14, Alsobrooks confirmed that PGCPS asked for more than the $2.092 billion she placed set aside in her proposed budget. She assured school officials that state funds would offset those missing funds, going to the state capital “about two days a week” for the past three months to recruit the funding needed for school improvements, PGCPS Interim CEO Monica Goldson said.
“We have continued to talk about the changes we were going to make in education, but this time we actually made them,” Goldson added.
The county was expecting to get more funding for education but the Build to Learn Act bill was stalled out days before the assembly closed. However, according to Alsobrooks, the county can commit to rebuilding five to seven schools in the next three years and “as many 20 schools” in the following ten years as they receive more funding in the coming years.
Prince George’s County will now centralize its youth sports through the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission after House Bill 678 passed. According to the new law, the department will now control the availability of fields and centers throughout the county in order to fairly distribute access to the venues.
Alsobrooks added that the county will receive $3 million for two years to build 12 turf athletic fields on their schools, focused particularly on urban schools who did not receive these renovations in the past in order to “make sure that we have equity across our county.”
A law supported by several county delegates was passed that will raise fines against individuals who illegally dump garbage such as mattresses and tires in the county The county executive hailed its passing as the continuation of her beautification plans for the whole county. She announced that extra plans to deal with illegal dumping and other efforts to clean up the county will be presented in the upcoming weeks.
“We were successful, yes, we had some challenges along the way, but you know what? We did not get off the page, we stayed focused on our mission to make sure that we were going to go and we were going to bring back the resources that we need to operate gorgeous Prince George’s,” State Sen. Obie Patterson (D-26) said.
Alsobrooks also applauded success to the Prince George’s Delegation, especially Del. Kris Valderrama, for pushing through legislation that will add more speed traffic cameras on Maryland Route 210/Indian Head Highway. After passing legislation during the previous session for only one speed camera, more were proposed following a string of accidents that have occurred in the county in the past six months.
According to Prince George’s County Police, MD-210 has had an increase of accidents since 2016 with 336 reported incidents to 354 traffic accidents in 2018. Because it is a state highway, only Maryland lawmakers could pass a bill to include more speed cameras.
“You all are aware of the many, many tragedies that we have seen on that road and unfortunately so many others in Prince George’s County,” Alsobrooks said. “We were able to secure the resources we needed to make that road safer.”
With the county’s wider goals being mostly funded by the state, County Council Chair Todd Turner said that he and the council can use any extra gains in local coffers into improving economic development. Providing incentives for developments around transit-oriented areas with both Marc and Metro stations will be important to motivate more investments within the county, Turner added.
Now that funding is secured for a multitude of projects, the county is going to have to put it in good use throughout the area, Alsobrooks said. From ensuring safe driving in Indian Head Highway to rebuilding school buildings in Hyattsville, the importance is not just to show that it is being used but that there is equity in how it is spent.
“The big thing is next year when we get back to help is to find sustainable dollars to make sure that we can do all the things that the county executive has said that I am also committed to,” Patterson said.
Reporter Jessica Ricks contributed to this report.