Baker's budget focuses on jobs, public safety

Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

County employees would receive bonuses after years of pay freezes

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker's $3.19 billion budget plan attempts to refocus what he described as the county's limited resources on economic development, education and public safety.

Baker's efforts to reprioritize county spending come at a time when a proposed shift of teacher pension costs to local jurisdictions could add millions of dollars to the $126 million budget deficit officials seek to close.

"We're asking people to do more with less," Baker said.

Gov. Martin O'Malley proposes shifting half the cost of teacher pensions to counties immediately, while the state Senate adopted its own budget plan Thursday that would phase in the shift over four years.

"Certainly we're going to have to look at what happens in the General Assembly," Baker said. Both the governor's and Senate's pension proposals "could have a devastating impact on Prince George's County. We're realists here, we know the pension shift is coming."

Baker's budget closes the gap with $53 million in spending cuts -- including roughly $20 million in savings from the police department budget -- as well as $73 million in new revenue, mostly in new dollars from the state.

A 50-cent increase to the $2.50 recordation tax, assessed during property transfers, would add $4.7 million to county coffers.

And speed camera revenues are expected to climb to $16.8 million in fiscal 2013 -- nearly four times the revenue projected in the current fiscal year -- as the county continues to ramp up the program.

Those collections should help offset the county's dwindling property tax revenues, according to Tom Himler, the county's deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and administration. Median house sale prices for Prince George's in January have dropped from $330,000 in 2007 to $162,000 in 2012, and tax revenues have dropped accordingly.

Full-time county employees who have gone three years without raises would receive a $1,250 bonus in fiscal 2013, as well as $1,000 in the current fiscal year.

No layoffs or furloughs were considered as a part of the budget, Baker said, though raises aren't an option given the steep shortfall.

"We are doing what we can with this budget, though I wish there was more we could do," Baker said.

Baker plans to distribute $11 million of the $50 million Economic Development Incentive Fund, his first major initiative as county executive. The funds will be available mostly as loans to local businesses.

Baker plans to add 150 police officers, as well as 50 firefighter recruits. And the Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office would add 16 positions, including nine new attorneys.

The budget also contains $1.64 billion in spending on K-12 education, up $29.2 million from the previous year. County funding exceeds the state's maintenance of effort requirements by roughly $21 million.

Baker also wants to fully staff the county's revamped Board of Ethics, which has sat idle in recent years. An executive director would oversee one staff member and two investigators in the office.

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