Prince George's County Council approves $2.65 billion budget
nMembers put county executive's economic growth fund on reserve
Prince George's County Council members unanimously passed a $2.65 billion budget with more funding for education and a tentative promise to fund the executive's signature program.
The budget is the first for new County Executive Rushern L. Baker III, and the council which had five new members serving their first year in office.
The spending plan, approved May 26, includes no county tax increases for residents. Spending is 1.2 percent more than last year, though many departments and programs were scaled back in terms of funding to accommodate new programs.
For a third year, county employees will receive no pay increase, though council members will. The outgoing County Council members voted last October, before five current members were elected, to increase their average salary from $96,417 after a one-year freeze this year every December based on the region's consumer price index. Prince George's County has the highest pay in Maryland for its County Council members.
Hiring in most departments is frozen except for new classes of police, firefighters and corrections officers.
Council Chairwoman Ingrid Turner (D-Dist. 4) of Bowie said the budget ensures a "healthier, safer, wealthier Prince George's County."
"We have approved a budget for fiscal year 2012 that sends a clear and unmistakable message to our citizens," she said. "We heard you. We listened. We are working for you."
Residents will likely see the start of speed cameras on county roads this year to raise $4 million for public safety, and students will see police officers take over security in county high schools from the sheriff's department. South Bowie will get a new library slated to open in spring 2012.
Council members are holding back Baker's signature program in the budget, a $50 million economic development incentive fund that would be used to give about $7 million in loans, grants and other funds to entice new companies to the county next fiscal year. The money comes from a one-time surplus of roughly $159 million.
The program was questioned by the council, who said that there weren't given enough details on how it would be run or spent. In negotiations going right up to the final vote, members decided to hold the money in reserve and will require legislative approval before it is given to Baker's office.
"Everyone likes the concept, but there have to be checks and balances," said Councilwoman Mary Lehman (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel. "And it's still a leap of faith."
Baker was not available for comment.
Members made few cuts to the budget since Baker introduced the plan in March. The council increased Baker's budget by $7.9 million, which will be funded through the surplus. Education cuts have been a major concern this year. Parents and teachers protested several major cuts in the school system's $1.6 billion budget, including plans to eliminate Reading Recovery tutors that work with struggling first-graders and a plan that would have stopped free bus service for students going to specialty schools in the county.
The council is giving $4 million to keep specialty school bus service and $2.2 million, which would pay for 24 Reading Recovery teaching positions. The school board will consider the funds when amending its budget next month.