This story was updated 3:44 p.m., March 14, 2013.
In light of an anticipated $152 million budget deficit next fiscal year, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) announced plans to eliminate hundreds of county jobs, implement furloughs and make cuts in county agencies.
“There were cuts in programs,” Barry Hudson, a Baker spokesman, said of the proposed $3.24 billion budget for fiscal 2014. “We were able to whittle down services. In some cases, it did end up being people.”
Baker’s proposed budget calls for offering early retirement packages to about 500 of the county’s roughly 6,000 employees, said Thomas Himler, deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and administration. The package would offer $1,000 for each year served, he said.
Baker’s budget is based on the assumption that at least 200 employees will take the offer before the start of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, and provide savings of $18 million by not filling the positions, Himler said. County first responders and other public safety personnel would not be eligible for the offer, Himler said.
Even with proposed staffing changes, county leaders said they still won’t be sure until later this year how variables such as cuts in federal spending may impact the county’s budget planning.
“This will be a very strange budget process for everyone,” Himler said.
The budget must be approved by the County Council before the plan can go into effect July 1. The fiscal 2013 budget was $3.22 billion.
The deficit is due to a combination of sagging revenue — real property taxes are expected to be down $11 million, or 1.6 percent, due to continuing weakness in the county’s real estate market — and escalating costs, according to officials.
Himler said he was optimistic that enough county employees would take the early retirement packages, but the county may have to resort to layoffs if enough don’t take the offer.
Remaining employees will be required take five furlough days, which is expected to save the county government $7.8 million, Himler said.
“Nobody who works on the senior staff likes furloughs,” Himler said.
The county will use $47 million in additional general funding from real property taxes, income taxes and transfer/recordation taxes to help address the deficit.
The savings breakdown includes $19 million in county funding to outside entities such as Prince George’s Community College and libraries; $15 million in debt service savings from outstanding debt and staggering bond sales; $8 million in additional operating cost savings; $7.5 million in IT savings and $5 million for risk management and other post-employment benefits.
Those savings will be reflected by cutting the size of two police classes in the coming fiscal year from 50 recruits to 40 recruits and changing the county library management structure by having most libraries share a floating manager who splits time between multiple branches.
Despite the furloughs, the county is also allowing for merit-based salary increases of around 3 percent, something that has not occurred in the past two budgets. Even with the furlough days, some staffers could see about a 2 percent increase in wages, Himler said.
For the county school system, the budget includes $1.69 billion — the full amount requested by the school board — for kindergarten to 12th grade education.
Included in the budget is a plan to earmark $8 million to support after-school programs and other initiatives at schools in the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiatives program. The TNI program, supported by Baker, has the county government focus on improving communities in troubled parts of the county.
“If we help some of the worst performing schools, the overall system is going to improve,” Himler said.
The council is scheduled to adopt the budget by June 1.