A single issue stands up front for the Prince George's County government in 1983. "No question about it. The priorities are going to be Number One: Money. Number Two: Money.Number Three: Money," said veteran County Council member Sue V. Mills.
The bleak financial picture for the upcoming year was Topic A on the agenda for newly elected County Executive Parris N. Glendening, who has joked that, after he won the job last November, he accepted congratulations and condolences from supporters wary of the county's unwieldy budget.
Just a week after his landslide victory, Glendening startled county legislators -- and presumably the county work force as well -- by announcing at a press conference that 600 jobs could be in jeopardy unless the county found a way to make up for a $32 million budget shortfall predicated for 1983. The outlook is no better for the following three years, with the total projected deficit set at as much as $150 million.
Glendening's woes may be worsened by the fact that all the county's major union contracts will expire on June 30. These include contracts with police officers and firefighters, doctors, nurses and staff at the three county-run hospitals and the teachers.
"It's going to be a blood bath," said Mahlron Curran, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, the bargaining agent for the county's 880 police officers.
"Six months from now we're all going to look back and say 'We used to all be nice to each other, didn't we?'" Curran said.
Despite such predictions, all the unions supported Glendening, a two-term member of the County Council, in his bid for election to county executive and labor officials expect a friendly -- albeit austere -- climate for contract negotiations.
In his inauguration speech, Glendening, a mild-mannered college professor who says he wants to promote "rational public debate" about the budget crunch, set the goal for his administration:
"The county must be placed on a sound financial basis," he said. "With major declines in federal aid, the rigid freezing of the property tax yield [mandated by the county voters in 1978], and the leveling and in some instances, declining of other revenue sources, our financial picture has become most difficult. Continued inflation, further federal aid reductions and recession-induced loss of other revenues, will make the situation more severe."
The county's tough financial picture was aggravated in November by the voter's rejection of a slight modification in the property tax ceiling, called TRIM, which would have slightly loosened the cap and generated about $8 million in additional revenue for the county.
Glendening, a strong supporter of the TRIM modification, says now that he will go to the state for some kind of financial help not based on property taxes. That aid, he said at his inauguration, "must be of a sufficient magnitude to eliminate the bulk of next year's shortfall."
Although Glendening isn't saying so publicly, he would like to see the county delegation to the General Assembly support a plan to add 1 cent to the sales tax in Prince George's, which would generate about $28 million in the first year.
In Annapolis, where the sales tax is closely guarded as a revenue source reserved solely for the state, the local delegates have been unsympathetic to Glendening's pitch. Among other things, they have said that he is looking for a "scapegoat" by putting the onus on the legislature to bail out the county.
If he doesn't get the money, Glendening said in his inauguration speech, "then we must begin the task of large and sustained service reductions." Glendening insists that his gloom and doom talk is for real. Service cutbacks could include curtailment of library hours and road repairs, according to budget observers. County Council
While the budget will be the dominant issue for Democrat Glendening and the newly elected, all-Democratic council, other issues on the 1983 agenda include tax, development, zoning and transportation issues.
The council in 1983 will consider a bill proposed by council member Mills that would revoke a $1 million tax break for the Washington Capitals ice hockey team that was approved by the council last August.
Another bill, introduced by Mills and fellow council member JoAnn Bell, would require the council to reverse its four-year-old decision to locate the Metro Green Line subway station at Rosecroft and put it instead at Branch Avenue.
A big question looms, however, about whether the council's sentiment on the issue will have any affect on the Metro board, which last November approved the Rosecroft site. The Metro board supposedly has the last word on the decision.
Also in 1983, the council is expected to make some zoning decisions that will shape the looks of the $500 million waterfront complex proposed for Smoot Bay, at the Prince George's end of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. Plans for the project, called "Bay of the Americas," include a 1,000-slip marina and yacht club, waterfront restaurant, conference center and town houses. The size of the development, however, has spurred federal and local protest and could force it to be scaled down. Schools
County executive Glendening has promised repeatedly that any budget reductions would be absorbed across the board by the county government -- which is no small point to the county's beleaguered school system, which still feels it took a beating in last years money go-around.
In 1982, former County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan cut $37 million from the school board's budget, $5.3 million of which was restored by the county council. The upshot of that cutback was the school system's decision to send layoff notices to 827 employes, including 507 teachers. Only 124 have been recalled to their jobs.
Two weeks ago, county school Superintendent Edward J. Feeney, saying "we all recognize the realities of life," proposed a $317.5 million budget for his schools in 1983, asking only a 3.7 percent increase from the Glendening administration compared with the 9 percent he sought a year ago from Hogan.
That budget calls for the elimination of 358 staff positions in 1983, including 95 teachers, but Feeney says that reduction could be covered by attrition, not layoffs. Feeney also has called for restoring money for books and for 125 repair projects put off this year because of insufficient funds.
School board member Bonnie Johns said the school system had heard the word from the county administration bulding "that the money is just not there" for any increases beyond what Feeney described as "an outline of basic necessities."
The new budget does not include any cost of living increase for the county's 6,000 school teachers. Contract negotiations between the school board and the teachers' union, the Prince George's County Educators Association, begin in January. Their contract expires in June.
The union's two-term president, John Sisson, who led bitter struggles with Hogan over cutbacks in the school budget, steps down in June. Union insiders expect a struggle for control of the union leadership between Sisson protege Jeanette Gordy, an administrator with the county Head Start program, and Paul Pinsky, a Fairmont Heights High School teacher.
Both are members of the union's board of directors and Gordy is a member of the county Democratic Central Committee. Pinsky is associated with a teacher group called the Bottom Line Caucus. Under the influence of Caucus leadership the teachers pulled off an unheard-of job action in February 1981, when hundreds of teachers called in sick during their last contract negotiation.
Meanwhile, the school system will move ahead in 1983 with previously set plans to close down seven elementary schools and three junior high schools for a combined savings of $2.2 million.
The elementary schools that will close their doors in June 1983 are Colmar Manor; Harmony Hall in Oxon Hill; Kentland in Landover; Margaret A. Edmonston in Laurel; Sandymont in Marlow Heights; and Woodley Knoll in Suitland. Landover Hills and West Lanham elementaries also will close but their enrollments will be combined in the current Glenridge Junior High, which will close next year.
The junior high schools slated for closing are Bladensburg and Glenridge, in Landover Hills. The closed Margaret Edmonston elementary and John Hanson Junior High schools will be used as annexes for Laurel and Oxon Hill High schools, respectively. The remaining closed schools will be turned over to the county government for sale or alternative county uses.
No high schools are scheduled for closing in 1983, according to school officials.
The school administrators have scheduled a move for themselves in 1983; they will shut down the two brick buildings they currently occupy behind the county courthouse in Upper Marlboro as well as a third closed school building in Upper Marlboro and consolidate all their offices in the former Frederick Sasscer Junior High on School Lane, also in Upper Marlboro.
While the school administration wrestles with its budget for the coming year, it also will await a decision from U.S. District Court Judge Frank Kaufman on a lawsuit brought by the county NAACP branch, which alleges that the school system remains illegally segregated.
The NAACP contends that the school board did not adjust school attendance areas to maintain racial balance as black students poured into the county system and whites left the county between 1974 and now. As a result, the NAACP contends that the school system has violated its constitutional mandate to desegregate the school system.
The school board has countered that it had no duty to adjust the busing plan imposed by the courts in 1973 to desegregate the schools and contends that the courts effectively said the county had met its constitutional burden when it relinquished control over the school system in 1975.
During a two month trial last May and June, Kaufman rejected major parts of the arguments on both sides. Nevertheless, if he were to decide the case in favor of the NAACP, it could mandate a new busing plan for the county. Criminal Justice
In the county courthouse in Upper Marlboro, State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr. already has said that in 1983 he will seek the death penalty in six criminal cases. Marshall announced in the fall that he would seek the death penalty in every murder case where he believes that at least one of the 10 "aggravating circumstances" exist as outlined in Maryland law.
Previously, the state's attorney's office made the decision about whether to seek the death penalty on a case-by-case basis, depending on the facts and the seriousness of each offense.
Maryland's death penalty laws have been on the books since 1978 and prosecutors in Prince George's are frustrated that in the five years since then they have been unable to convince either a judge or a jury in the county to send a convicted murderer to the gas chamber.
But, they say, they are getting closer. Last fall, two convicted murderers were saved from the gas chamber by a single juror's vote. If nothing else, Assistant State's Attorney Robert Bonsib, chief of the felony trial section, says, "that indicates an overwhelming community support for the death penalty."
There was extensive debate in Maryland in 1982 over the way convicted murderers were sentenced and it is expected to intensify in the new year. Much of the controversy was generated by the two consecutive life sentences given the two men who raped and murdered Stephanie Ann Roper, a Prince George's County college student. The men were sentenced in St. Mary's County, where the murder occurred, and would techinically be eligible for parole in 12 years.
Prosecutor Marshall, complaining about the leniency of that sentence, sought and obtained more than 20 additional indictments against the two men, all for crimes committed in Prince George's County during the course of the assault that led to Roper's death in St. Mary's. Those crimes include firearms possession andrape. The two men are scheduled to stand trial in Prince George's on those charges this spring.
Also in Upper Marlboro, construction is expected to begin late this year on a new county jail at a site on Brown Station Road. The voters in November approved a $20 million bond issue that will help pay for the cost of construction of the new facility, which will house 300 immates. The new jail is expected to be completed in 1985.
Meanwhile, a special grand jury will continue its investigation into rapes and sexual assaults that occur at the existing county detention center as often as 12 times a week, according to guards and inmates quoted in a series of articles published in The Washington Post. County officials have said that the new jail will greatly relieve overcrowding at the detention center, a condition guards say contributes to a high incidence of sexual assaults.