The proposed $3.19 billion Prince George’s County budget for fiscal 2013 unveiled Thursday would add 236 public-safety positions, allot funds to plan four new schools, provide aid to complete one police station and plan for three others, give a one-time bonus for county employees and fully staff the county’s ethics board to include investigators.
“This budget process was about looking at our government through a prism and three words dominated our discussions: vision, focus and results,” said County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D). “I knew we’d all have to ask each and every office to do more with less. Our vision and mission helped us create a budget with a common theme of making this county better for residents, businesses and visitors.”
The proposal — a $27.6 million increase from the fiscal 2012 budget — also includes funds for the construction of an environmental education facility and completion of the $15.7 million South Bowie library.
However, in order to preserve critical investments, there will be 5 percent cuts across all county departments, except in public safety and education. Also, the budget contains a proposed increase in the recordation, or transfer, tax rate of 50 cents per $500 in transaction. This increase will generate $5 million in fiscal 2013.
Additionally, the county will not provide merit or cost-of-living adjustment increases to county employees, who will instead receive a one-time bonus.
Continuing efforts to increase accountability and transparency, Baker’s budget proposes fully staffing the county’s Board of Ethics with an executive director, administrative staff and two investigators. The board would include a tip line to report abuse, fraud and government waste.
“We’re in fiscal 2013, but our revenues are back to fiscal 2008 levels,” said Thomas Himler, director of the county’s Office of Management and Budget. “That’s not a pretty situation to be in. That’s our biggest challenge. Funding all these priorities.”
Himler described the economy as “essentially flat” from the current fiscal year due to a tight job market and still struggling housing market.
The county’s reliance on the property tax base resulted in another hit to revenue as real property taxes decreased $25.7 million in January 2012. The decline has officials expecting the county’s property revenue base to drop from $72.1 billion in fiscal 2012 to $68.5 billion in fiscal 2013.
Himler said as a result of the many foreclosures since 2007, the average median sale price of county homes has dropped from $330,000 to $162,000.
Baker also expressed concern about the likelihood of teacher pensions being shifted from the state to the county. Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) proposal would force Prince George’s to handle an additional $34 million in fiscal 2013.
“We’re realists,” Baker said. “We know the pension shift is coming, and we’re just hoping it will be less of an impact on us. We don’t have ways to raise revenue to cover it.”
Officials are optimistic the Economic Development Incentive Fund will help spark Prince George’s commercial tax base, however. The $50 million fund, which was created last year and began implementation last month, is intended to attract new businesses while helping existing businesses expand by providing loans, grants and equity investments. The fiscal 2013 allocation of the fund will be $11 million, up from the current fiscal year’s budgeted amount of $7 million.
On the education front, Baker’s budget proposes $1.64 billion in funding — a $29.2 million increase from the amount approved in fiscal 2012. County aid will decrease by $4 million from $617.5 million to $613.5 million as state funding is expected to increase from $874.3 million to $907.1 million.
“[The county funding for schools] only appears as a reduction because [the school system] lowered the amount that they asked for,” said Terri Bacote-Charles, acting director for the office and management and budget. “This is still $21 million over the Maintenance of Effort requirements.”
The MOE requires the amount spent per pupil to be the same or exceed the previous year’s amount.
Funding is also included in the proposed budget to continue construction for a new Oxon Hill High School, Avalon Elementary, Hyattsville Elementary and Henry Ferguson Elementary.
The Alice Ferguson Foundation will receive $1 million for a new environmental education facility in the county’s southern portion along the Potomac River, where students will take part in interactive environmental and agricultural lessons.
The budget also includes $543.2 million for public safety. The District 7 police station in Fort Washington will receive $5.4 million to complete construction and funding has been allocated for District 5 (Route 301/Brandywine area), District 6 (north county) and District 8 (Woodmore area). The county fire/EMS department receives $131.7 million, which provides 50 new recruits in addition to 24 that had previously been covered with grant funding, as well as 12 new ambulance/EMS units, eight command vehicles, four new fire engines and two ladder trucks.
The Department of Corrections’ 67.9 million funding allows for 20 new correctional officers, and the state’s attorney’s office received funding for 16 additional positions.
“Our office has long been understaffed and underfunded,” said Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela Alsobrooks in a statement. “Without prosecutors, every person who was arrested by the police would go free. With additional positions, we will enhance our ability to prosecute cases in a firm, fair and consistent manner.”
County employees have not received raises in three years. Although Baker did not allow for raises this year, he alloted $3 million to provide bonuses for the 5,829 county employees.