P.G. cost-savings panel recommends buying cheaper supplies

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Local,Maryland,Matt Connolly

A task force created more than a year ago to cut costs in cash-strapped Prince George's County has presented its findings to the County Council. Its recommendation? Buy cheaper paper.

The 17-member task force, which was established in June 2011, presented the council with about $550,000 in savings from cooperatively purchasing paper, toner, ice melt, and electrical and plumbing supplies among county agencies and the school board.

But cheaper paper and other supplies aren't likely to put a dent in the county's budget hole. While the next fiscal year's budget gap has not been projected yet, it's not likely to shrink much from fiscal 2013's $126 million shortfall.

The task force's goal was to find what county agencies purchase most, then cut the cost of each by 15 percent, said Office of Central Services Deputy Director Stephanie Anderson. Those savings mainly come from agencies ordering in bulk from the Office of Central Services' warehouse rather than from outside sources.

"Purchasing from the warehouse should be the first option," Anderson said, noting that agencies that bought white paper from the warehouse in 2012 spent about $3.30 a ream, whereas agencies that bought paper from other sources spent between $6.34 and $11.58 a ream.

The resolution creating the task force charged it with looking at the potential "merging of services" in the county, but the panel did not focus on that due to "time constraints," according to the task force's report. The panel's recommendations were supposed to be made by December 2011, but the County Council gave the group an extra year.

The result seemed to focus on small ways the county could tighten its budget without tightening its belt.

"We're not trying to eliminate any jobs or any positions," said Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg. "We're trying to make sure that we're being good stewards of our dollars."

This is not the first time the county has convened a task force on cutting costs, though officials are hoping it will be the first time the county follows through. While task forces created in 1991 and 1996 looked at consolidating services between the county and the school board, county agencies failed to act on their recommendations.

"This is not the first time we've attempted to do this," Harrison said. "We've gone through the exercise before, but we have not had much success in the implementation."

The report called for quarterly meetings to track the progress of its recommendations.

"To make this a success, we're going to need buy-in from all the stakeholders," Anderson said. "We believe that continued communication will be necessary."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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