Prince George’s County Council faces full plate of issues -- Gazette.Net


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From the creation of a new regional health care center to deciding where a gambling parlor will be based, Prince George’s County officials say they face a significant workload in 2013.

Both multimillion-dollar efforts may take up a great deal of the council’s time in the coming year, said Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington.

A task force of county, state and Dimensions Healthcare System officials is expected to announce the ideal type and location of a proposed $600 million health care center.

“It's economic development. It’s health care not just for our county, but for the region,” said Lisa Jackson, the county’s lobbyist tasked with soliciting the state’s support in helping to fund the facility. “It will be here to serve not only our needs but the southern parts of [Maryland].”

Another major task is the creation of a new county gambling site, tentatively set to be based in National Harbor, that will need both the state’s blessing and zoning approval from the County Council.

Moving forward with the casino may be a yearlong effort, said Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale.

“It's not going to happen overnight; it will take some time,” she said.

County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said education is his biggest priority.

Baker said he wants to be “intimately involved” in the county board of education’s search for a new superintendent. William Hite Jr. departed in the summer to lead the Philadelphia school system.

“We’ve got to push the envelope on making progress in education,” Baker said.

The casino’s future remains a priority for the county executive, said Baker spokesman Scott Peterson. Last year, Baker strongly backed supporting a casino in Prince George’s as a way to boost the economy and create jobs.

County leaders also will have to deal with an increasingly challenging budget in the face of falling tax income in recent years, said Councilman Eric Olson (D. Dist. 3) of College Park.

“There are areas where I would love to see expansion,” he said, pointing to greater support for such areas as public safety, education and code enforcement. “It's not realistic to think we're going to be in much of an expansion mode. We're looking at maintaining what we have.”

Another goal for Baker is enhancing what currently exists with the county’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, which began in April. County leaders have focused their efforts on six troubled communities — East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Glassmanor/Oxon Hill, Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights, Kentland/Palmer Park, Langley Park, and Suitland/Coral Hills — in an effort to improve their quality of life by addressing issues including violent crime, pedestrian deaths, third- and fifth-grade math/reading levels, foreclosure rates and income level.

The county will continue to wrestle with having more foreclosed properties than any other county or Baltimore city. According to an October report, the county had 1,295 foreclosure events, with 581 caused by new notices of default being issued.

Michael Graziano, director of government affairs for the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, said county officials should use resources to establish a down payment assistance fund for homebuyers. Helping qualified homeowners who may need help with the initial down payment could reduce the number of foreclosed properties and help stabilize communities, Graziano said.

The diverse docket of issues could make 2013 one of the busier years in recent memory, said David Harrington, president and CEO of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce, who served on the council from 2002 to 2006.

“This is clearly one of the most ambitious I've seen,” said Harrington, who served as council chairman in 2006. “There are some weighty issues that are going to be lingering.”

amccombs@gazette.net