Prince George's County is $5.3 million short of the revenues needed to provide $607 million needed for the next fiscal year, County Executive Parris Glendening said last night.
Glendening told about two dozen persons who attended the first public hearing on county budget needs that even $7.3 million in new money to be derived from increased property taxes will not cover the shortfall predicted for the fiscal year that starts July 1. This year's county budget is set at $579 million.
"Clearly we are out of the crisis situation of only a few years ago," Glendening said. "I caution, however, that there will still be some service contractions if we do not take additional positive steps at this point."
Glendening has been lobbying the Prince George's County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to back legislation granting the county additional taxing authority. Those funds he said, would go a long way toward closing the gap in his budget recommendations, which are due out the first week of March.
Nearly 64 percent of Glendening's proposed budget will be devoted to education, according to estimates provided by the county budget office last night. An additional 13.4 percent of the budget will go toward public safety.
Most of the speakers at last night's hearing in Riverdale expressed satisfaction with School Superintendent John A. Murphy's budget request, which totals $362.5 million, but many also said that more should be spent on teacher salaries and programs for students with special needs.
"If it's necessary to send a child to school, it's equally necessary to provide a child with quality education when he can't go to school," said Madeline Erickson, a home and hospital teacher. Such special teachers, she said, are not compensated adequately for the extra effort.
Murphy's proposal to create an alternative school for students with disciplinary problems also came under attack last night from June White Dillard, a lawyer who spoke on behalf of the Coalition of Black Affairs of southern Prince George's County.
"We feel that such a school would be a place where minority students in particular, would be railroaded out of the classroom," she said.
Chief Administrative Officer John Wesley White said that there would not be large scale layoffs or reductions in services because of the projected shortfall.
"But there will continue to be a gradual erosion" of services, he said. Priorities must also be more clearly defined, he added, asking: "How much more deeply do we have to cut into programs in order to pay respectable salaries?"