P.G. council OKs $50m economic development fund

Local,Maryland,Ben Giles
Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker's $50 million economic development incentive fund, the signature legislation of his nearly one-year-old term, unanimously passed the County Council on Tuesday after months of haggling and delays.

The bill, shelved by a council finance committee in June, received new life this fall after a summer of negotiations between Baker's staff and the council, which sought to ensure the millions of dollars at stake would have the proper checks and balances so the fund would not be abused.

Baker now has the "wow" factor he says is essential to competing with Montgomery County and Northern Virginia, which have been far more successful than Prince George's County at attracting businesses and federal tenants and focusing development around valuable Metro station property.

"The irony of this huge, long debate of this very important economic development tool in Prince George's County is we now have what all of our neighbors have," said David Iannucci, a member of Baker's economic development team. "We've stepped up with a tool everyone has had for many years, and we will be able to compete in a way we've never done before."

The fund is an unprecedented amount for the region -- a similar fund for the entire state of Maryland is worth about $70 million.

The sheer size of the fund led some council members to worry that officials would be fast and loose in distributing millions of dollars to businesses.

Councilman Obie Patterson, D-Fort Washington, the only council member to vote against the bill in committee, said he still has concerns with Baker's bill, but voted in favor with the other council members Tuesday.

"There's not enough checks and balances to satisfy my thrust for what would be good responsibility for the council," Patterson said. "But in the end, I think we made progress on the bill."

The first $7 million of the fund, set aside for fiscal 2012, should be made available for application by January, according to Iannucci.

The fund plans to provide as much as $12 million in fiscal 2012, and millions of dollars more in years after that.

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