The Prince George’s County Council gave final approval Tuesday to a plan intended to attract new jobs and businesses.
A bill establishing the Economic Development Incentive Fund, which has been a top priority of County Executive Rushern Baker III (D), passed by a vote of 8 to 0.
Prior to the vote, Baker thanked the council for its work on the legislation.
“It’s an example of us coming together for the best interests of the county,” Baker said.
The initial plan for the fund, which would use $50 million in surplus funds to provide loans and grants to draw new businesses to the county and help existing businesses expand, drew criticism from council members who felt the program needed more oversight. The council removed the measure from Baker’s fiscal 2012 budget so it could be reworked.
Under the version approved Tuesday, the council has more control over how to spend the fund. Council members will now be able to select three members of a seven-person review committee — to be made up of independent financial professionals who live in the county — that would review applications from businesses that may receive money from the fund.
The council will also have seven days to object to any grant or conditional loan over $250,000. Conditional loans would not need to be paid back if certain criteria, such as a minimun number of jobs, are met.
A similar program in Montgomery County requires council approval for disbursements over $100,000.
Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie praised the compromise both branches reached on the fund.
“We do have the same goals, we do have the same vision,” Turner said. “We’re going to make the county even greater.”
Turner previously called for the $250,000 threshold to be included in the bill, explaining that having setting the oversight at that level would keep the county competitive with other jurisdictions.
Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington voted in favor of the bill, despite expressing concerns when the bill was discussed in committee that the $250,000 threshold only applied to grants and conditional loans, not traditional loans.
Patterson said that while he was not 100 percent in support, creating jobs was essential.
Several organizations testified in support of the fund Tuesday, including the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been as excited as I am today to see what our elected officials are doing,” said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Business Round Table. “I am so proud today to be a Prince Georgian.”