Local: Education

Prince George's County Council passes budget with no furloughs, education reductions

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Local,Maryland,Education,Matt Connolly,Prince Georges County

The Prince George's County Council approved a $2.7 billion budget for fiscal 2014 that will not furlough county workers and restores library funding.

The council took $10.8 million from the proposed public schools budget to eliminate the five furlough days proposed by County Executive Rushern Baker as a way to save $7.8 million. To get rid of the furloughs, the council pulled Board of Education funding back to $1.68 billion -- enough to meet the state's minimum requirements for the county, and a 1.4 percent increase over the fiscal 2013 budget.

"We find it imperative that we invest in our employees, strengthen the morale of our workforce and reward their faithful service to our government during consecutive years of economic crises," said Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison, D-Bladensburg. "Working together, we are pleased to report that we have eliminated the need for proposed furloughs in fiscal year 2014."

The budget includes pay raises for employees, which will cost the county about $18 million.

Prince George's is planning an audit of the school system, which is expected to take more than a year to complete. Council members said they were hesitant to provide the schools with extra funding until the results of the audit are released.

"We haven't looked at our own Board of Education, its budget and its operations in terms of efficiency in 15 years," said Councilman Derrick Leon Davis, D-Mitchellville. "We need to be real prudent. We can't go beyond [the state-required amount of funding] until we know exactly where we are."

The council increased funding to the county library system by $2.5 million to offset cuts proposed by Baker. In addition to funding the purchases of computers and other supplies, funding will go toward Sunday hours at three yet-to-be-determined library branches.

Baker's office and the council will need to reassess the budget in September, however. A new retirement incentive program -- offering employees $1,000 for every year they worked for the county to retire between May 1 and July 1 -- is still $11 million short of the $19 million in savings that county officials expected it to provide.

"Right now, it is still out of balance," said Thomas Himler, Baker's budget chief, though he added that employees have more time to decide to retire and receive incentive packages.

If the gap remains, it will mean more cuts in September. While Harrison said that furloughs are now "off the table," Himler was not as definite.

"We'll re-engage the council in dialogue over the summer," he said. "We're going to look at everything again."

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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