$1.4 billion budget proposed for 2001
Mar. 30, 2000
Eyobong Ita
Staff writer

County Executive Wayne Curry (D) Wednesday proposed significant increases in funding for the Board of Education, the Office of the Sheriff and legislation that would create a new information and technology agency in his budget for fiscal 2001.

Curry announced a $1.489 billion operating budget -- an increase of 6.7 percent or $93 million over the current budget, which is in effect through June 30.

County tax revenues will support half of the increase, or $48 million; state, federal and other sources will fund 38 percent, or $36 million; and the county's operating reserves covers 11 percent, or $9 million.

The budget is $44 million more than the Spending Affordability Committee spending cap recommended to Curry and the County Council in an independent analysis of the county's revenue and spending outlook, according to the proposal.

"My proposed budget recognizes the wisdom of the Committee's recommendations while also recognizing that the considerable investments the county has provided for public schools must continue," Curry said.

The Board of Education received $939.3 million, 63.1 percent of the total county budget. That amount represents a $63.3 million in additional funding to the board, an increase of 7 percent.

The affordability committee, Curry said, had cautioned that "increases in education spending above maintenance of effort should be proposed only after serious consideration of the long-term planning implications." However, Curry said that the school system is the highest priority for Prince George's County.

The proposed budget for the Board of Education includes $28 million to fully fund salary increases plus funding for all-day kindergarten in all elementary schools and the opening of two of the first new high schools in the county in more than a quarter century, Charles Flowers in Lanham and a new Northwestern High in Hyattsville.

Another new school, Perrywood Elementary -- the first in the community park/school program -- is also proposed to open next year.

"The $28 million provided for salary increases will enable the [Board of Education] to correct some significant flaws in the current salary structure, which I pointed out last year and which have now been confirmed by an independent study funded by the Board and the teacher's union," said Curry.

The public school system will also benefit from 20 additional police officers Curry is proposing to add to the police department, raising the number of county police officers to 1,420.

The new officers, to be hired from a three-year grant from the Department of Justice, will provide security and other services in public schools, according to the proposal.

Schools Superintendent Iris Metts lauded the budget, even though she had requested a budget of over $1 billion..

"I'm elated and so pleased with the recommendations of the County Executive," Metts said. "I'm pleased that he has enough confidence and faith in the school district at this point and its management and leadership that he would invest significant amount of dollars in our progress."

Metts said the budget meets her expectation because she is aware the county's revenue flow does not match that of the surrounding counties.

"I think I need to push harder to get the total budget from the state and federal government, and I'm optimistic that I will get some more money," Metts said.

The Office of the Sheriff will also benefit from the first increase since Curry and former County Sheriff James Aluisi fell out publicly following Curry's reduction of the sheriff department's budget in the fiscal year that started July 1, 1996.

Curry is proposing additional funding for 138 sheriff deputies and 93 civilian positions, an increase of 52 positions and the first time the sheriff department will hire new personnel.

The department has not hired deputies and civilian personnel since Dec. 12, 1994.

As of January, there were 92 vacant positions, including 66 vacated by sheriff deputies who were never replaced.

The problem was due in part to a 1996 lawsuit against the sheriff department by Southern Management Co., a firm that operates residential apartment complexes, according to court documents.

The management had sued Aluisi and Prince George's County, alleging that the Sheriff's office failed to carry out evictions and other legal actions involving the corporation.

The complaint demanded that the sheriff's office be required to execute all incoming orders and that the county be required to give the office adequate funding.

In an unprecedented development, the sheriff responded by filing a cross claim against the county, requesting "declarative and injunctive relief" to get what it felt was adequate funding.

The management corporation later dismissed its complaint against the county and sought relief only against Aluisi. The county then filed a cross claim against Aluisi, alleging waste and mismanagement of county funds by the sheriff's office and requesting an audit and the appointment of a receiver. The county also filed a third-party complaint against the State of Maryland, requesting that the state be made to pay for the services of sheriff deputies in the courtrooms.

The feud between the County Executive's Office and the Sheriff Department subsided after Sheriff Alonzo Black II succeeded Aluisi.

"The increased staffing is due to the sheriff continuing to perform nonsecurity functions in the District Court such as evictions and tack-ups," Curry said Wednesday.

Sheriff Black Wednesday commended Curry for proposing a budget that would allow his office to fill vacancies for the first time since 1996.

"It represents a much-welcomed symbol of an improved working relationship between this agency and the county government that will greatly benefit all of our citizens," Black said in a written statement. "We will continue to discuss the finite details of the court settlement in an effort to completely close that chapter of history and move us forward with the common goals of serving the citizens of this county and making all of our streets and neighborhoods safe."

The County Executive's budget was also accompanied by legislation that would create a new department -- Office of Information Technology Division, according to Curry.

That office will combine information technology communications in the Office of Management and Budget with the communications units of the police and fire departments.

"The new agency will contain all the personnel that provide voice, data and public safety communications for the county," Curry said.

The budget proposal also includes:

* $6 million for road resurfacing.

* 50 additional staff associated with the expansion of the county's correctional facility and four housing units containing 192 beds, to increase the capacity of the correctional facility to 1,332.

* Relocation of the Barlowe Road Regional Processing Center to the correctional facility.

* 40 career emergency response technicians

* A $25 increase in monthly pension payments to retired volunteer firefighters.

* Two additional prosecutors to assist the State's Attorney with cases involving repeat violent offenders, domestic violence and child abuse.

* Increased funding to support services to people living with AIDS.

County Council Chair Dorothy Bailey (D-Dist. 7) of Temple Hills also hailed Curry's proposal after, but added that she had not yet considered it in detail.

"It looks to me that the County Executive has responded to all of the Council's concerns," Bailey said. "We wanted money there for teachers salaries; we wanted to make sure our construction was still on target; public safety was also another issue."

Bailey said she was pleased with increased funding for the Conference and Visitors Bureau.

"We know that economic development has been increased and the Community College was also a priority and we got what we wanted there, so our initial review is that we're pleased about the County Executive's budget in responding to our concerns," Bailey said. "But keep in mind that we will review the budget over a two-month period, so I'm sure there's something we haven't seen. But we think that all things considered the County Executive has done an outstanding job in putting this budget together."

Curry said the budget "will allow us to ensure the future prosperity of the County, as well as protect and enhance the education of our children by providing the proper personnel and technology for this monumental task."