Thursday, April 19, 2007

Delegation brings home funds for police department

Glenn Dale gets $300,000 for business incubator

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Bowie will get more money for its growing police department, and Bowie State University’s budget will increase in the next year following what local state lawmakers called a ‘‘good year” in securing state funds.

The General Assembly ended its session last week, and District 23 – which includes Bowie, Glenn Dale, Upper Marlboro, Lanham and Laurel – received $27 million in project funding, $22 million in school construction funding and other amounts for various projects.

Given that District 23 has two freshmen representatives and the state was facing fiscal constraints, the local lawmakers said they fared well.

‘‘This is a little bit higher than we have gotten in the past four years,” said Del. James Hubbard (D-Dist. 23A) of Bowie, the veteran representative of the district. ‘‘I think this is very good year for Dist. 23.”

District 23 is represented in the General Assembly by delegates Hubbard, Gerron Levi (D) of Woodmore and Marvin Holmes (D) of Kettering, as well as by Sen. Douglas J.J. Peters (D) of Bowie.

Bowie city got its fair share of money, mainly for public safety.

Two bills passed increased state funding for the Bowie Police Department. One bill increased the public safety surcharge, the amount a city receives from the state for its police force, from 12 percent to 25 percent. Peters said it would equate to about $1,500 for each new house.

The other bill increases the State Aid for Police Protection fund from $1,800 per police officer to $1,950. This is money given by the state to help police departments. Bowie plans to hire 15 more officers in the upcoming fiscal year, which means the city will get $2,250 more than expected.

‘‘This helps the entire district,” Levi said. ‘‘The sooner Bowie gets its police department up and going, the sooner it will free up [county] police resources for other areas. Places such as Lanham and Seabrook, which fall within the district, could use more police patrols.”

City officials say the extra money will be welcomed, though the impact of the public safety funds might not be fully felt in Bowie. The surcharge will only go to the city if the houses are built within Bowie; otherwise it will go to the county.

‘‘There were some successes, no question about it,” City Manager David Deutsch said. ‘‘We certainly appreciate the police aid, as it will yield more dollars.”

Hubbard and Peters made efforts to get a $500,000 bond bill passed to help fund the city’s new municipal building. However, nearly all of the bond bills requested by municipalities were rejected due to budget constraints, the lawmakers said. Deutsch said the city will try again next year to find money to offset the projected $31 million for the building.

‘‘We’d have loved to get that bond bill, but when nobody else got it, I could live with that,” Mayor G. Frederick Robinson said. ‘‘It’s a challenging time.”

Bowie State University got money for a new arts center. The center will feature a 400-seat theater, classrooms and studios.

State funding for BSU’s operating budget will be $89.4 million for fiscal 2008, up 2 percent from the current fiscal cycle.

The lawmakers were able to get $22 million in allocated school construction funds for the district, much of it back pay the county spent on projects already completed. Those include the renovation of Whitehall Elementary and the conversion of Samuel Ogle from an elementary school into a middle school. Peters said construction funds would also go towards Northview Elementary.

City officials were pleased with the full funding of the highway user revenues, an allotment to cities for the maintenance of roads. It is considered the largest and most important source of state funding. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) pushed for full funding, and the General Assembly approved it.

The most talked-about bond bill for District 23 went to the construction of a business incubator at the Reid AME Temple in Glenn Dale. The facility received $300,000 from the state and is aimed at helping create jobs and county-based businesses.

‘‘If we can start training the unemployed, that takes people off of welfare and the unemployment roles, which saves us tax dollars,” Hubbard said.

The following fiscal year may be more challenging for local lawmakers because of an anticipated multi-billion-dollar deficit. But legislators are confident they would still be able to bring home more funds for District 23.

‘‘It’s a solid foundation to work from,” Peters said. ‘‘We had a tough budget session, and yet we were very successful. As a member of the budget and tax committee, I feel we’re going to bring back more money in the future.”

E-mail Jason Flanagan at jflanagan@gazette.net.