Brightening Prince George's somewhat tarnished reputation is viewed by County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan as his county's chief challenge in the next decade.
Sprucing up the county's image, Hogan believes, is the best way to attract upper middleclass home owners and their tax dollars.
"People think 'Prince George's County -- yuk.' As a result, we continue to lose upper income people," said Hogan. "We need a better economic balance in population."
County-wide school busing, implemented in 1973, spurred people to desert the county, Hogan maintains. He also blames the decade's three-year-old sewer moratorium for some of what he sees as Prince George's housing woes.
"That was devasting. It completely stymied economic growth," he said. "What we get now are low income people who need services."
Services require taxes which Hogan is determined to hold down. In 1978, Prince George's citizens vote for TRIM, a measure which requires the county to hold taxes to the fiscal 1978 figure of $142 million.
"TRIM is the lash at our backs," Hogan said.
Hogan says he wants to cut government spending by decreasing the number of county government employes.
"We have so far reduced the government by 600 employes and cut our operational budget by several million dollars," he said. "I see one of the major challenges of the '80s as getting a handle on government spending without reducing government effectiveness."
During the '70s, Prince George's at first grew rapidly and then lost population. The county's 1970 population stood at 663,000, rose to a high of 693,000 in 1972 and fell to 662,000 in 1978. A county projection for 1980 is 672,500.
While county population was declining, however, the number of households increased from 192,000 to 223,000. However, average household size shrank from 3.4 to 2.9 people, as the population aged and single-member households increased.
County experts point to two main population trends in Prince George during the decade of the '70s: the flight of white families seeking to avoid school busing and a major in-migration of black families. These trends have helped change the county from 15 percent non-white in 1970 to 30 percent non-white in 1977.
Hogan wants more money flowing to government from the private sector -- instead of the other way around -- via more high income residents living in expensive homes.
First, however, there must be expensive homes for these people to buy, a commodity Prince George's now lacks, according to Hogan.
"Montgomery County complains it has too much high-priced housing. We don't have enough. The lawyers, corporate vice-presidents who work here take their tax dollars, their civic leadership home to another county at night," complained the county executive.
"We need to attract those people. They think Prince George's is all low-cost housing and warehouses, when the county is still 80 percent rural. In the future I hope we will be viewed by developers and builders as a place where quality development can and will take place."
In 1978, the average sale price of a home in Prince George's was $54,000 compared to $78,500 in Montgomery, $72,400 in the District and $68,200 in Fairfax County.
But while Hogan wants to decrease government spending on services, he plans to continue funding for the arts. Arts, he feels, are near and dear to the upper echelon people he seeks to pull into the county.
"People think this is redneck county and that's simply not true," exclaimed Hogan. The '70s, he said, spawned much in the way of performing arts in Prince George's.
"We have a professional opera society, two symphony orchestras and a chamber music society and 22 theater groups," he noted.
Hogan also said Prince George's is planning an arts symposium like the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C.
But it will take more than cultural come-ons to bring large numbers of professionals to Prince George's, Hogan acknowledges. There must be an appealing economic base. To this end Hogan hopes the '80s will bring bigger and better business opportunities for the county.
Right now, Hogan says the county is canvassing for a spot to build a duty-free foreign trade zone. This, he said, could attract foreign manufacturers who could import their parts duty-free.
But before rapid growth can take place in Prince George's County, Hogan maintains, "We must in the '80s find a solution to the solid waste problem."
The Prince George's executive said he does not want to see another sewer crisis halt development in Prince George's. However, he criticized the present sewage disposal method which buries solid sewage, laying waste to hundreds of acres of land. "What we need," Hogan said, "is co-disposal to extract energy from sludge and solid waste and use it."
Hogan opposes a regional composting facility as envisioned by some Montgomery County officials. The composted sludge would be sold to farmers as fertilizer.
"I don't think there's enough of a market for it," said Hogan. "I would like to see the most appropriate technology used to cope with this problem."