Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III on Thursday unveiled a $3.41 billion spending plan for the coming fiscal year, hailing it as a blueprint for the county’s emerging image as the “place to be.”
If approved by the County Council, Baker’s 2015 spending plan would mark a 4.4 percent increase over the fiscal year 2014 budget. The budget does not raise property tax rates; officials said the additional spending would mostly come from tax revenue generated from rising home values and increased state aid for education and other initiatives. Officials said the median home price in the county in January was $195,000, more than $30,000 higher than in 2012.
Baker (D), who is running for a second term, pitched the spending plan as another step away from the economic troubles the county faced when he took office in 2010. At the time, Prince George’s had one of the highest foreclosures rates in Maryland, and its previous leader was mired in a corruption scandal.
“We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Baker said in a news conference at the county building. “And the light is becoming brighter and brighter.”
After a series of public hearings and debates, the council must decide how to amend the budget, and pass it by June 1.
The budget’s biggest winners are the Board of Education and police department, which would see a budget increase of 6.4 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Together, the two agencies would make up more than 80 percent of county spending.
On education, the spending plan would reduce class sizes and introduce pre-kindergarten at more county schools, among other initiatives. The budget also adds Sunday hours to four library branches, bringing the total number of libraries open on Sunday to seven out of 19.
Public safety agencies would see staffing increases across the board, though the police department would benefit the most. The proposal calls for 150 new officers from three new classes of recruits, bringing the total number of sworn officers on the force to 1,740.
The spending plan allocates $13 million from the county’s Economic Development Incentive Fund for a new effort to encourage businesses to come to Prince George’s. The fund has already been used to help negotiate $9 million in deals that have created or maintained 1,600 jobs in the county, officials said.
Health-care proposals in Baker’s budget request center on a new regional hospital at Largo Town Center, which will replace Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly. The spending plan sets aside $208 million for the health center, which the county hopes will serve patients throughout Southern Maryland.
The budget proposal includes a fully staffed Office of Ethics and Accountability, reflecting Baker’s promise to clean up county government after his predecessor, Jack B. Johnson, was arrested in 2010 on corruption charges.
Baker cited several examples of the county’s progress since he took office: overall crime rates and the number of homicides in the county have both dropped; county recycling programs are ranked 3rd in the state instead of 10th; and the county is expecting $4 billion in development over the next several years, including a resort casino at National Harbor and the Largo hospital.
“We are transforming Prince George’s County, and we’re doing it together,” Baker told an audience that included Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, a Democratic candidate for governor. “We are quickly becoming the place to be.”