Virginia is clean. Philadelphia is fighting childhood obesity. Washington, D.C., supports local businesses.
At a series of public forums in Prince George’s, residents have been sharing these observations from visits to other jurisdictions — as they note that the county needs to do a much better job in all these categories, and more.
Sadly, the complaints are nothing new. The desire for high quality retail and dining establishments, the frustration with dilapidated shopping centers and the exasperation over roadside litter have been discussed for more than a decade, but with spotty results.
The recent forums, called listening sessions, are being hosted by County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and other leaders to get input for the General Assembly’s 2014 legislative agenda. On the surface, the residents’ comments may not seem helpful regarding state affairs, but when put in perspective, they are extremely valuable.
For example, as the General Assembly weighs whether to raise minimum wages, leaders will need to keep in mind the impact doing so would have on Prince George’s, a county struggling to attract and retain businesses. Balancing businesses’ and residents’ needs will take some work.
With an incoming casino in south county, a new outlet mall at National Harbor and longstanding congestion on many roadways throughout the county, state transportation funding is critical to quality of life in Prince George’s. If residents want more and better businesses, it’s imperative that the infrastructure be in place to make the sites accessible.
And businesses flock to areas where schools are thriving. State funding helps there, too.
Granted, these challenges don’t fall solely on the state’s plate.
The county must do — and is doing — a better job addressing quality-of-life issues. Baker has restructured school leadership, funneled millions into economic development, launched a new government system that eases the process of filing community complaints, and crime is at a record low. And in his defense, he’s only been in office a few years and must overcome the failed attempts of his predecessors.
The burden falls on residents, as well. When a community is buried in litter, not only should residents pitch in to clean up, but they should overload county phone lines demanding better service. As unwanted businesses propose moving in, county meetings should be standing-room only — as they should also be when promising businesses eye Prince George’s.
School board meetings should be the most populated event in the county. Nearly every aspect of life is negatively affected when schools are struggling.
Unfortunately, it’s a discussion that’s been had for many years. And although elected officials have tried different strategies to address the challenges, it’s difficult for residents to continue being patient while paying taxes into a system they feel offers rundown schools, traffic congestion, littered streets and limited commercial options. Especially when some better quality-of-life options are just over the county border.
While the county has many wonderful aspects, it is also regarded as a sort of stepchild for the region, the less successful member of the metropolitan family. It’s time to change that image, posthaste.
For far too long, residents have had to hear about the great potential in Prince George’s and the baby steps being taken to get there. However, after years of promises, it’s time for some leaps and bounds.