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Johnson Budget Would Bolster Pr. George's Schools, Police

By Sudarsan Raghavan and Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, March 31, 2005; Page B05

Prince George's County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D) presented a $2.15 billion budget yesterday that calls for big spending increases in education and public safety, including additional police officers to combat the county's soaring homicide rates.

Johnson proposes hiring 200 officers in the fiscal year that begins July 1 as well as adding 26 civilian positions to free up more officers to patrol the streets. If approved by the County Council, the department's budget will grow by $23.8 million, to $182.9 million -- a 15 percent increase.

_____From the Post_____
Prince George's Budget Proposals (The Washington Post, Mar 31, 2005)

The boost in police spending comes as 39 homicides rocked the county in the first quarter of 2005, nearly double the number during the same period last year. Johnson also is facing growing criticism of his crime-fighting record. Yesterday, he said the budget was a big step in the right direction.

"We believe this plan is a good plan that will bring safety and more security to all of our citizens," Johnson (D) said at a news conference.

Johnson proposed a $1.4 billion budget for the county's public schools, $128.2 million more than the school system's current spending plan but still $20 million less than what the Prince George's County Board of Education had recommended.

Johnson touted the 10 percent increase.

"Folks, that's a lot of money," he said.

In all, Johnson's budget calls for $201 million -- or 10.3 percent -- more than the current spending plan. More than 90 percent of the county's $85 million share of new revenue came from property, income and real estate transaction taxes, underscoring the county's rising prosperity. Outside funding sources, such as state aid, accounted for $116 million in new revenue.

The county's property tax rate, however, remained unchanged at 96 cents per $100 of assessed value. Property taxes have been more or less static since a voter-imposed tax cap passed in 1978.

Adding officers to the 1,350-member police force has been a central element of Johnson's crime-fighting strategy. He has committed to hiring 150 officers in each of the past two years, and his proposal yesterday would boost that promise by 50 for the coming year. It would bring the department's authorized strength to 1,470.

But officers are leaving the force faster than they can be replaced -- an average of eight officers a month.

When asked if his planned increase would be sufficient to meet the county's needs, Johnson said that even with attrition, there will be 100 more officers on the force in the coming fiscal year.

"This plan is going to move us forward consistently -- not overnight," Johnson said.

The proposed budget also calls for 80 new firefighting personnel and 60 more corrections officers, in addition to new police fingerprint-scanning technology and improvements to the police drug lab.

The biggest share of the school budget, about $840 million, would come from the state and federal government and other non-county sources. The county's share, about $560 million, would be an increase of 6 percent from the current year's total. The state and federal shares would grow at a faster rate.

In addition, most of the county's proposed contribution is required under state law to help the school system keep pace with enrollment growth and other costs. The student population, about 136,000 as of September, is projected to exceed 139,000 in the coming school year.

What Johnson proposed beyond that legal minimum -- known as the county's "maintenance of effort" -- was an additional $14 million. Other counties with deeper tax bases are able to contribute far more.

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D), for instance, proposed spending $58 million more than his minimum requirement for schools in his 2006 budget. Montgomery has about 140,000 students in public schools.

Despite the $20 million trim, county schools chief Andre J. Hornsby, who attended the news conference, said he was pleased with Johnson's budget. "We didn't get everything," Hornsby said, "but you never get everything." There was no immediate sign that Johnson targeted any of Hornsby's projects.

The funding increases for education will help pay for raises for teachers and other employees ($46.3 million), the costs of opening schools ($20.4 million), early childhood education initiatives ($5.7 million) and special education programs ($8.2 million).

Johnson's capital budget also includes money for a regional high school scheduled to open in August 2006 and funding for the first of two high schools planned to open in the next four years. The capital budget also would help renovate and expand DuVal, Potomac and Parkdale high schools.

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