The Prince George's County Council voted tentatively last week to restore nearly $1.3 million to the budget of the bicounty Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission and to cut a comparable amount from the county operating budget.
Under the proposal, the county would increase the park and recreation tax by 2 cents and cut the county property tax by a similar amount. The move by the council came in response to a proposed fiscal 1981 park and planning budget that called for drastic cuts in many services provided to the county's 650,000 citizens.
Council members warned, however, that restoration of the funds will depend on cuts in other parts of the county operating budget.
This week, County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan blasted the council for its decision to restore the programs by increasing the park tax. Hogan agreed in general with the decision to restore the programs, but he wanted the council to pressure the park and planning commission to reorganize and add or increase user fees for several services.
"I believe this flies directly in the face of the mandate of the citizens of the county to curb governmental spending and reduce taxes," Hogan said. "It makes a mockery of our efforts to apply the spirit of TRIM (the tax-limiting charter amendment) to the bi-county agencies. It is painfully obvious that the council has no intention of devoting increased attention to management and curbing costs."
Council member Gerard McDonough disagreed, saying, "I think the executive's comment is premature and incorrect. We plan to cut taxes and spending by a comparable amount in the county operating budget. It's the executive who has misplaced priorities. He's the one who wants to spend money on fatrat bureaucrat salaries and political slush funds."
In his own recommendations for the park and planning budget, Hogan urged, for example, an increase in fees charged for zoning applications and establishment of a charge of 25 cents a day to children who use county playgrounds.
The council decided, however, to reshuffle the tax rates -- increasing the park tax and decreasing the county tax.
Nearly all of the council restorations were made in the park and recreation fund, which represents about 80 percent of the commission budget.
The council recommended the commission restore nearly $425,000 for funding area operation programs, which include neighborhood, community and other parks, summer playgrounds and community activity centers, and for day-to-day maintenance and janitorial services.
Without the additional money, the park and planning commission would have been forced to eliminate 10 playgrounds and most summer bus transportation, keep community activity centers open five days a week instead of the current seven and make major cuts in maintenance and support budgets.
The council rejected Hogan's recommendation that the commission partially fund it summer playground program by charging children who participate 25 cents a day.
The council also moved to restore $625,000 to the budgets of the divisions of trades and development, and horticulture and forestry. Council members feared that without the money the commission would be unable to maintain properly its buildings, tennis and multipurpose courts and local ballfields. Moreover, there were doubts the pesticide, summer maintenance and woodland preservation programs could be maintained without additional funding.
In its own budget proposal, the park and planning commission recommended cuts of nearly a half million dollars from the amount of last year's budget.
Some council members were wary of Hogan's recently announced proposal to break up the Prince George's-Montgomery commission partnership and put the Prince George's park and planning functions under the administration of the county government.
"Hogan's just trying to stir up a controversy around the commission," said Prince George's Council Chairman Parris Glendening. "If we break up the commission, it'll cost more to administer the programs. Most of the commission's problems are money shortage problems.
"He's probably seeking greater political control over the commission," added Glendening. "I'm not going to be a party to an effort to break up the commission and I'm not going to stand by and let the axe fall on a bunch of people who are doing a pretty good job to stretch a dollar."
The County Council is scheduled to take a final vote on the park and planning budget in late May, and will then forward its recommendations to the commission.