Step over the threshold into 1982 and enter a year in which the leaders of Montgomery and Prince George's counties will attempt to do more with less.
Montgomery and Prince George's officials display a can-do spirit as they talk about plans to ease the pain of federal budget cuts, step up law enforcement, build roads and parks, improve education and forge a spirit of racial and political harmony. Public programs may be less flashy in 1982, but local leaders seem intent on finding ways to provide quality services to their suburban communities in the face of shrinking resources.
Politics will be a key theme in all that happens in 1982. A major election year opens in Maryland today, with jobs to be filled from the statehouse to county courthouses. On the state level, the leadership style of Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who is seeking reelection, is likely to be a major issue. In local elections, school closings in Montgomery and a new system of county council representation in Prince George's will probably dominate the political debate.
On New Year's Day, here is the outlook for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, the ambitious plans tempered with the realities of life in 1982.
ECONOMIC CONDITIONS. Montgomery and Prince George's county officials are fast discovering that Washington is not recession-proof as they face growing unemployment among residents, much of it the result of the reduction in force (RIF) affecting federal employes.
Officials in both counties foresee funding problems resulting from federal budget cuts. Prince George's officials are doubly concerned because they face revenue limitations imposed by the TRIM charter. Some areas where federal funds are being slashed include impact aid to schools, welfare payments and CETA job training.
"While we're anticipating some difficulty as a result of federal budget cuts, we have demonstrated our ability to cope with cutbacks from TRIM," said William R. Brown, Prince George's finance director.
Montgomery County is trying to save some programs by encouraging the private sector to become involved in public services, according to County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist. Under one plan to offset federal welfare cutbacks for the "working poor," Gilchrist proposed a joint effort by the county and private businesses to provide job training for needy residents.
The housing slump continues to worry local officials, who say they hope 1982 will bring a drop in interest rates.
"Housing has suffered a terrible setback, but we're trying to come up with alternative forms of home financing to help revive the housing industry," said Montgomery Council President Neal Potter. One plan calls for the use of county-issued mortgage revenue bonds to help low- and moderate-income persons finance new homes at below-market rates.
Potter said his "big ambition" on the economic front is to lower the county's property tax rate in 1982. "That's going to take some tough work during the budget process," because the county has experienced only a slight increase in its tax base, he said.
Property taxes in Prince George's will continue to be limited by the TRIM amendment, which froze the county's property tax levy at the 1979 level, according to Kathy Moore, deputy budget director.
TRANSPORTATION. While work on Metrorail and highway construction will continue in 1982, county officials are worried that the state and federal governments will not provide adequate funding for these projects.
"The main remedy (for Montgomery County's road problems) is at the state level," Gilchrist said. "We will have to support the increase in the state's revenue through Governor Hughes' gas tax proposal." Hughes has recommended a 4 percent tax on the wholesale price of gasoline to bolster the state's financially strapped road and bridge fund.
Montgomery County Transportation Director Gerald Cichy said the county plans to start work in 1982 on parking lots and access roads to the new Metro stations, scheduled to open in late 1983 in Bethesda, Rockville and Gaithersburg. The construction will involve the White Flint, Twinbrook and Shady Grove stations. However, I-370, a crucial Metro access road linking I-270 and the Shady Grove station, cannot be completed before 1985 because of a delay in federal and state funding, he said.
Excavation will continue in 1982 around the Forest Glen Red Line station, but prospects for completion of the Red Line from Silver Spring north to Glenmont are uncertain.
"We've got to be sure we keep pressure on federal officials not to stop in midstream on the development of Metro," said Norman Christeller, chairman of the Montgomery County Planning Board.
In Prince George's, construction of major parking facilities around the West Hyattsville and Greenbelt stations is to begin in 1982. But these stations are not expected to be completed until the early 1990s, officials say.
Only minor road projects are planned in Prince George's in 1982, said Vaughn Barkdoll, county transportation director. Planned improvements include three new highway bridges, on McKendree, Leeland and Sellman roads; a new $525,000 traffic signal system for Marlboro Pike; and work on the intersection of Cherry Hill and Powder Mill roads. Barkdoll said funding for the proposed $36 million construction project at the interchange of Routes 50 and 410 is not available.
EDUCATION. After a stormy season of school closings in Montgomery County, Superintendent Edward Andrews said he is "guardedly optimistic" that school officials can turn their attention to educational improvements for the county's children.
"I'd like to see us get away from bricks and buildings and get back to students," Andrews said.
The superintendent said he expects citizens to appeal several of the school closing decisions made this fall by the county school board. But he was anxious to discuss the financial savings anticipated.
"We can show an $8 million reduction in the budget as a result of school closings," he said. "We hope $5 million will go back into the schools for program improvements such as all-day kindergartens."
In Prince George's County, school board chairman Doris Eugene said the school system faces a shortage of funds because of TRIM and federal funding cuts. Program reductions are likely, she said, and one change may involve switching driver education from an in-school to an after-school program.
The major issue facing the school board in 1982, Eugene said, is the reopening of the 1973 federal court suit on school desegregation in the county. A hearing is set for early February on NACCP charges that the school board never fully desegregated its schools. If the NAACP wins its lawsuit, a new pupil assignment plan could be ordered by Judge Frank Kaufman, who is hearing the case. Kaufman was the judge who ordered busing for desegregation in 1973.
CRIME. "The best thing that could happen to Montgomery County in 1982 would be a decrease in the crime rate," said State Del. Luiz Simmons (R-Rockville).
In fact, 1981 brought some relief in this area, according to County Police Chief Bernard Crooke. He said Montgomery County experienced a 16 percent drop in burglaries during 1981, which contributed to the county's first overall dip in the crime rate since 1976.
In 1982, Crooke said, the department's priority will be a continued crackdown on robberies, burglaries and drunk driving. He said an aggressive effort will be made to reduce armed robberies, which increased 25 percent in 1981.
John McHale, police chief in Prince George's County, said the police force will increase from 838 to 894 members in 1982, giving the county the largest number of police officers in its history.
"I'm hoping that with the additional police officers we'll be able to improve our response time and see a drop in the crime rate," he said. He added, however, that he would be satisfied if the crime rate were kept down to a 3.1 percent increase, which is what the county experienced in 1981.
RACIAL TENSIONS. A growing sense of racial tension is another community problem that suburban Maryland officials hope to resolve in the coming year.
"I had a down year this year with the increase in hate group activities and complaints of racial discrimination. With the support we've received from county officials, it's going to be a much better year in 1982," said Alan Dean, executive director of the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission.
"In 1982, with the increased awareness by citizens that county officials find racial conflicts intolerable, it will ease up," Dean predicted.
"People running around carrying a cross or painting swastikas on synagogues won't be viewed as pranksters. They will be reported to police. There will be more monitoring and more awareness of the significance of these incidents," he said.
William A. Welch, executive director of the Prince George's County Human Relations Commission, said an improvement in race relations will be difficult unless the economy gets better.
"When there is a downturn, a shortage of jobs, housing and money, there is always a corresponding increase in anti-social behavior," Welch said. "If the economy doesn't improve, we're in for hard times."
RECREATION. Parks and park programs will operate on minimum budgets in both Montgomery and Prince George's counties, as they have for the past four years, park officials said.
Three new outdoor swimming pools are scheduled to open in Prince George's, however, and next fall officials may open a portion of the campgrounds at Montgomery's 3,500-acre Little Bennett Regional Park near Hyattstown.
Maryland's Open Space program, the 11-year-old program that so far has provided a total of $22 million each to Montgomery and Prince George's counties to help buy and develop park land, at best will get the same $24 million budget from the legislature it has received the past two years. Although the state may change the method of allocating Open Space funds to the counties, the program has been the major source of funds to buy and develop new county parkland.
Montgomery is putting much of that money into regional parks like Little Bennett and Martin Luther King Jr. Park in the eastern part of the county, which are only partially open. Work this coming year will include playing fields at the King park and campgrounds at Little Bennett.
In Prince George's, were parks have been operating with dwindling numbers of employes and TRIM budgets for four years, state funds will help add three new pools to the four existing public pools. Two of the three pools are near Hyattsville and one is near Oxon Hill. Other state funds will help renovate the old Prince George's Country Club into a community center and improve portions of Fairlands and Walker Mill regional parks.
POLITICS. Maryland's 1982 campaigns will be waged at the national, state, county and local levels. Primaries are set for Sept. 14 and the general election for Nov. 2.
Gov. Hughes is up for reelection, but the field still is open for Republican challengers -- with Anne Arundel County Executive Robert A. Pascal considered a prime contender for the nomination. The main issues are expected to be Hughes' low-key leadership style, whether he can steer his legislative package through the General Assembly and his tougher stand on crime and prison management.
The jobs of lieutenant governor, comptroller and attorney general also are at stake this year, as are state Senate and House of Delegates seats, several judgeships and other courthouse posts.
U.S. Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) already is campaigning for reelection; his only current major GOP challenger is Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan. Attacks on Sarbanes' liberal voting record by the National Conservative Political Action Committee are likely to be a central issue. Local congressmen are up for reelection, but they will run in districts recently redrawn by the state legislature.
Voters will select county executives in November. The field in Prince George's is crowded with prospective candidates to replace incumbent Hogan. Montgomery County Executive Gilchrist has indicated he will seek reelection, but has no declared opponents yet. The recent county liquor department investigation in Montgomery and Gilchrist's management performance are probable issues.
Council elections in Prince George's County will have a new look in 1982 when the county switches from a system in which council members are elected at-large to one in which each member represents a single district. But the new districts may be challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that the district lines dilute the vote of the county's blacks, who make up 37 percent of the population.
Montgomery County Council President Potter predicted that recent school closing decisions will be "one of the hottest issues" in the councilmanic and county executive races. School board elections, also scheduled next fall, are expected to take on political overtones because of the divisiveness created by the school closings.