Prince George's County park and recreation programs will be cut back at least 6 per cent more than other county-funded agencies under the economy program proposed earlier this month by County Executive Winfield M. Kelly Jr.
It could force the elimination of at least 72 full- and part-time park and recreation jobs and curtailment of almost all county park programs.
The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has already stopped $13.5 million in park purchase and development projects - in addition to the operating budget cutback - at Kelly's behest. Now indefinitely postponed are the pending acquisition of numerous historic properties, open space and wildlife preserves, parks and a second 18-hole public golf course for the county.
The 50-year-old bi-county park commission is the only major county-funded agency whose budget Kelly is proposing to cut back. Although most county agencies had initial budget requests trimmed about 10 per cent, when built-in cost-of-living salary increases are included their budgets all show about 6.6 per cent increases over the money they are getting during the current fiscal year.
The park and planning commission's budget, however, even with cost-of-living wage increases, will still be about $200,000 below this year's $22.2 million county contribution, a drop of about one-half of 1 per cent.
"It's true, park and planning is taking a pretty hefty cut, greater than other agencies," says Kelly's legislative aide John McDonough, "although some smaller county agencies like licenses and permits and public works are also taking real budget cuts." The park commission gets about 85 per cent of its fund from the counties, with the balance in state and federal grants.
Even with the park-recreation cutback and limited increases for other county agencies, Prince George's may still have to raise the property tax rate for homeowners by as much as 26 cents, Kelly has estimated.
The Prince George's County Planning Board, the commission's county governing body, meets Feb. 16 to consider the proposed 10 per cent, $2.4 million cutback in its operating budget and to assign priorities among the $13.5 million in now suspended park purchase and development plans.
In a letter to MNCPPC Jan. 30, Kelly called for the reconsideration of all parkland acquisition and a halt in the development of all parks MNCPPC already owns.
He named 18 specific projects he thought could be eliminated first, including the purchase of virtually all historic properties in the county, such as Melford Manor near Bowie and the Indian Queen Tavern, the 1732 inn George Washington frequented in Bladensburg.
These and the purcahse of more than 40 other future park sites have temporarily been dropped by MNCPPC. They include many stream and river properties, the Free State Gardens near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, the ABC Wildlife Preserve off Capital Avenue and the Prince George's Country Club, which the park commission hoped to turn into a public golf course and major recreation area.
The park commission will continue to develop all park projects under actual construction or those projects being designed by staff. But it has suspended work on $900,000 in projects already bid on but where the contractor has not yet been selected, on 30 park projects under design and development and on $1.3 million of park projects now being designed by outside consultants but not yet scheduled for construction. All of these suspended projects have already been funded by bond sales.
The MNCPPC operating budget is funded largely by a current 42-cent surcharge on the county property tax, which is now $4.11 per $100 of assessed value. Kelly is proposing the County Council cut back that surcharge by 5 cents, or back to the level it was two years ago.
The 26-cent increase in the property tax rate, which would boost taxes on a $30,000 home by $80, will be needed to balance the county budget unless the Maryland General Assembly gives the county new taxing authority. Kelly has been pressuring the legislature for a "tier" tax which would allow the county to tax apartments, commercial and industrial taxpayers and homeowners at different rates. Howeowners bear an unequal share of the tax burden now, Kelly has said.
The MNCPPC staff is currently preparing a priorities list of park purchases and parkland development projects, in the hope the county planning board will buy crucial park areas which may otherwise be sold for development and "lost forever from the county park system," said planning board community relations officer Robert Reed.
As for the commission's operating budget cuts of $2.4 million, Reed says the staff is currently preparing an impact statement for the commission. Among the reductions will be the dropping of planners from the staff, reducing research, drafting and other planning projects such as work on county water and sewerage plans and the county's overall master plan for future development.
Ricahrd Stevenson, chief of park services for the planning board said the extent of the proposed operating budget cuts and the already suspended park purchases is still not generally realized in teh county. Nonetheless his office has already received many calls from irate environmentalists protesting the severe cutbacks. However, others have called to say the cutbacks are a good way to save taxpayers' money.
A complete list of the projects affected by the cutbacks is available at all community centers, park and recreation field offices and the planning board's office at 6600 Kenilworth Ave., Riverdale.