‘Quality of life’ improves in Prince George’s


Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III greets second-grade students during a visit to Bladensburg Elementary School on Aug. 19, 2013, in Bladensburg. (Amanda Voisard for the Washington Post)

The quality of life in Prince George’s County is dramatically improving, according to a report released last week by the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, a nonprofit made up of CEOs who advocate for businesses in the county. The report found that crime in the county is down, sales taxes are up, more teachers are qualified and more students are reading at advanced levels.

“What this document has and will always do is to break down rhetoric and stereotypes and replace it with facts and information, so that county residents and our elected officials can see where the county is doing well,” said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable, which was created 10 years ago to focus on public policy issues in the county.

“I’ve lived in the county all but six years of my life and  I’ve watched the progress that has occurred here over the years,” said Estepp, a former chair of the county council. “There is a misperception in parts of the region that doesn’t  match the reality. One of the reasons we did the report is to have an accurate, non-government report on progress we are making.”

According to the report, which measures indicators in areas including  the county’s economy, education, public safety, health, transportation and parks and recreation, the county has made significant strides. The report, which relies largely on government sources and data, compares indicators in Prince George’s with other counties in the Washington region.

“When we first undertook this mission four years ago,” the report said, “the county, even with its proximity to the Nation’s Capital, faced an unemployment rate that was two percent higher than that of our neighbors in Montgomery County. Though the increment is still high, in the past four years, the gap has shrunk, as has the gaps between taxes collected here and in Montgomery County.”

In 2012, Prince George’s collected $481 million in sales taxes compared with $523 million collected in sales taxes that same year in Montgomery and $331 million in Baltimore City. Commercial construction starts increased in Prince George’s in 2010, with 49 projects at a value of $784 million, compared with 26 projects in 2009. And the county’s unemployment rate fell to 6.8 percent, compared with a high of 7.7 percent in 2010. According to the report, median household income in Prince George’s rose to $70,114 compared with $63,005 in 2005.

“I attribute the data changes over the last three years to this county executive,” Estepp said during an interview. “The guy has been phenomenal in raising the expectations in the county, improving the economic point of view and showing people we can achieve high standards and showing people this is a place to invest and live and raise a family.”

In April, County Executive Rushern Baker III said in his State of the County speech to county business owners that the county has made significant progress since he took office in 2010.

“Brick by brick, we have been building a strong foundation for this county,” Baker told the audience. “It was almost four years ago when I promised to represent Prince George’s, and I have delivered.”

Baker added: “I want people to feel their quality of life is better without us having to say it.”

According to the Business Roundtable report, several indicators measuring the quality of education have improved. The number of teachers designated  “highly qualified,”  a term defined by the No Child Left Behind law, has increased since 2005, with 89 percent of teachers in the county receiving that title in core subjects, including English, foreign language, mathematics, reading and language arts. The percentage of seventh-graders reading at a proficient or advanced level rose to 77.1 percent in 2013 compared with 51.9 percent in 2005. Also, the percentage of seventh-graders scoring at proficient or advanced levels in math has risen from 39.9 percent in 2005 to 57.2 percent in 2013, according to the report. But the report notes that the county’s drop-out rate has risen from 3.57 in 2005 to 7.38 percent in 2012.

Last month, The Washington Post reported that the number of students attending Prince George’s schools had risen, with almost 2,000 more students enrolling in the school system than last year.

The county’s reports about  violent crime — including homicides, forcible rapes, robberies, car thefts and burglary  — have dropped significantly, the report found.

In 2005, the county reported 151 homicides. Last year, that figure had fallen to 56.

“Homicides are at their lowest level in nearly three decades,” the report said. “Over the last ten years, the county has seen drops in the thousands in the numbers of burglaries and robberies per year, and an astonishing drop of more than 12,500 fewer vehicles stolen per year from numbers only a decade old. Were those numbers too high to begin with? Absolutely, but that does not mean that the progress made since 2005 highs is not commendable or noteworthy.”

Still, the report found that the crime numbers are too high and reveal room for improvement. “It must be said that the county needs to continue its great strides in crime prevention,” the report stated. “When our crime numbers bear a greater resemblance to Baltimore City than to any other county in the state, it is imperative that we keep the celebrations to a minimum because there is still much work to be done.”

DeNeen L. Brown is an award-winning staff writer at The Washington Post who has covered night police, education, courts, politics and culture.
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