Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening yesterday unveiled a $601.9 million "turning point" budget that would reduce the average property tax rate by 4 cents but add $22.7 million to county revenues because of increased assessments.
The budget Glendening presented to the County Council falls 1.5 percent, or about $5 million, short of what county officials had said they would need to add to this year's budget to keep up with inflation, and he faulted county legislators for failing to provide more state funds to the county. But the budget also reflects last November's vote to relax TRIM, the cap on the county's property tax revenues, a modification that added $8 million to the budget, Glendening said.
He also said that the county has "passed a threshold into . . . fiscal stability" that is the first step in a multiyear effort aimed at improving critical service areas, including education and public safety.
"This budget represents an important turning point in the county's financial situation," he said.
Deputy budget director Robert Platky said that under the budget proposal, the owner of an $82,000 home -- roughly the countywide average -- would pay about $33 more in taxes for a total of $825 because of changes in state formulas that have raised assessments and the modification of TRIM (Tax Reform Initiative by Marylanders). The increase is a 4 percent jump over last year's average bill.
Altering the TRIM restriction on property taxes, which had limited the amount the county could collect to $144 million annually, "sends the message to the rest of the state, to the financial and business communities and to our elected officials that this county is once again ready to assume responsibility for controlling its own financial affairs," Glendening said.
The executive budget projects a 3.9 percent growth in general revenues. About 60 percent of the budget increase is being channeled into the county's schools.
The portion of TRIM still in effect freezes the county tax rate in its nonincorporated areas at $2.40 per $100 of assessed valuation. The average county tax rate, made up of varying rates set by 28 municipalities, would fall to $2.31 per $100 of assessed valuation from $2.35, according to Glendening.
The budget now goes to the County Council, which must pass a budget by June 30. It covers fiscal 1986, which begins July 1.
The county will see a "slight contraction" in some services, Glendening said. He attributed that reduction in part to the refusal of The $348 million allocated for schools in the proposed budget "is cutting it very close. It means we have just enough to get by, to make it through another year." -- Brian J. Porter school spokesman state legislators last week to support his effort that would have allowed the county to impose a commercial utilities tax. Such a tax, county officials said, would have raised $10 million.
Two weeks ago, Glendening said that the coming fiscal year would mark the first time in seven years that the county has not been forced to lay off employes, impose a hiring freeze or make drastic reductions in services in order to balance the budget. But the purchase of certain public works vehicles will be deferred, as will some street lighting programs and $1 million in mass transit assistance.
The proposed budget allows for the consolidation of the county's fragmented child-support enforcement programs, the hiring of 10 firefighters and additional criminal justice support staff.
As expected, Glendening did not fund $14 million in school department requests that would have decreased class size and paid for major maintenance projects in school buildings.
School department spokesman Brian J. Porter said that Glendening's proposal is a bare-bones budget for the schools, which had requested $362 million.
"This is cutting it very close," Porter said. "It means we have just enough to get by, to make it through another year."
If a federal proposal to slash general revenue sharing is approved by Congress, Porter said, the school system will be "in very deep trouble." County officials have said that such a reduction would cost Prince George's $11.8 million in funding, which is mostly funneled to pay school utilities.
Glendening said that if that federal funding is eliminated, he is hoping that the state will absorb the loss.
The police department would receive a $4.1 million increase in its current $51 million budget, most of which would cover negotiated pay raises and benefits.
The two-year-old Economic Development Corporation would have $150,000 added to the county-funded portion of its budget, bringing to $930,000 the total general fund contribution for the quasi-governmental agency.
Council member James Herl criticized the expenditure for an agency he said was designed to be largely independent of county financing.
"Economic development is going to take place in Prince George's County regardless of that $150,000," Herl said.
"But we are not going to be able to solve crime problems without more sworn officers on the street."
Other council members also expressed concerns about the proposed budget.
"No executive's budget stays intact," said councilwoman Sue V. Mills. "That's the name of the game."