Prince George’s officials planning for $152M budget shortfall -- Gazette.Net


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Prince George’s County is expecting a $152.2 million shortfall as officials plan the fiscal 2014 budget, forcing officials to look for ways to preserve core county services, according to County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D).

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure the quality of life in Prince George’s County increases,” Baker said at a budget forum Tuesday at Prince George’s Community College in Largo.

Given the budget gap, everything — including money for public safety and education — is on the table, said Tom Himler, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for budget, finance and administration.

The decline is due to a combination of sagging revenue — real property taxes are expected to be down $11 million or 1.6 percent — and escalating costs, according to officials.

On the revenue side, the county is projecting taking in roughly $2.65 billion, a 1.1 percent drop from the $2.67 billion officials estimate the government will take in this fiscal year. Fiscal 2014 begins July 1.

Officials are expecting about $2.8 billion in expenses based on current operations, according to county documents. Expenditures continue to rise as the county faces rising debt service costs on bonds as well as increases in pay and benefit costs for staff, according to the documents.

Melody Spruill, one of only two area residents who addressed Baker and county officials at the public forum that had only a handful of residents in attendance, asked the county government to continue to try and support local education and to look at ways to better engage area residents in their school. Even with her appeal, Spruill was already expecting the county will reduce its support for education,

“I’m expecting less, just in general,” she said after addressing Baker and his staff.

If the county government can’t increase its support for education, parents should work with their schools to make up the difference, Spruill said.

“Parents can’t wait for their government,” she said.

Real estate agents would like to see county support to fund assistance for first-time home buyers who need assistance closing on a home as a way to reduce the number of vacant and foreclosed properties in the county, said Michael Graziano, director of government affairs for the Prince George’s County Association of Realtors, after the forum.

“In the long run, they’ll help to increase the tax base,” he said.

The gap between what the county takes in and its expenses has been an issue since 2009, Himler said. To balance the fiscal 2013 budget, planners slashed up to five percent from every department’s budget, Himler said.

Despite the measures, the county still fell short in fiscal 2013, Himler said.

The fiscal 2013 budget was set at $2.68 billion; but revenues are projected to fall below expectations to $2.67 billion, falling short of the expected $2.7 billion in expenses this fiscal year.

County planners are looking at ways to cut back, such as not filling vacant positions, to make up the difference, Himler said.

The County Executive’s office is required to submit a budget to the County Council by March 15 and the council must have a budget finalized before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30, Himler said. Additional forums sponsored by Baker and the County Council are planned for later this year.

“This council certainly wants to make sure we provide all our citizens with everything they need for a comfortable living environment,” said County Council Chairwoman Andrea Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale. “We always take into consideration what our residents tell us.”

amccombs@gazette.net