About 50 Prince George's citizens appeared at an unusually congenial budget hearing last night, most of them in support of County Executive Parris Glendening's spending proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1.
The $528.3 million budget calls for laying off 412 employes, including teachers, firefighters, police officers and sheriffs unless the Maryland General Assembly provides new sources of revenue. Speaker after speaker told the executive that his cuts were unfortunate but they were necessary and fairly distributed.
"Even though our organization is concerned that this budget, as it is written, still involves the reduction of existing personnel and services, we believe, given the stringent circumstances, it is the best possible budget overall," said Felix Diaz, who represented an organization called the Spanish Speaking Community of Maryland.
Glendening, who opened the two-hour hearing in the County Administration Building in Upper Marlboro with a graphics-laden presentation, said he believed many citizens had become resigned to the county's financial problems.
"So many people have accepted the budget situation, I guess it's almost boring now," he said. He also said that he remained optimistic that the revenue to prevent the layoffs will be forthcoming from several bills under consideration in Annapolis.
Glendening's budget, which must be acted on by the County Council by June 1, includes a list of items he would restore to the budget if the additional revenue is provided. With $1.8 million, for example, he would rehire all 45 classroom teachers he proposed to cut. With $7.9 million, he said he would avoid all layoffs.
A majority of the speakers, as has become traditional in county budget hearings over the past few years, were advocates of increased school funding, and several said Glendening should give the schools even more than what they called "subsistence" funding. Other speakers included leaders of police, fire and teachers' unions, as well as representatives of several small businessmen's, handicapped citizens', and senior citizens' groups.
Charles Kiker of Morningside was one of the few speakers to testify against Glendening's proposal, arguing that the school budget, proposed at $306 million--the same figure as in the current fiscal year--should be cut further to provide funding for more police, fire and other public safety workers.
"It is inconceivable to me that the Board of Education has such a defiant, resistant stance to a reduction of their budget," he said, "It is a very selfish attitude that does not belong in our society."