The Prince George's County Council is hoping to shed its reputation as a rubber stamp for County Executive Parris Glendening's economic development plans by tinkering for the first time with a policy that Glendening calls "a very crucial link" to the county's future.
Council members will meet in Upper Marlboro today to labor over Glendening's ambitious economic development package, a version of which is forwarded to the council each year. But this year, council members said yesterday, they hope to leave their mark on the county's blueprint for growth.
"I am sure the county executive would be quite happy to make each of those decisions on each project on his own, but as a council, it is important to invoke our legislative privilege," Council Chairman William B. Amonett said.
Amonett and other council members said that they are eager to set their own economic development priorities this year and take a little credit for themselves when the projects bear fruit.
"Everybody feels if there's a ribbon-cutting ceremony, they ought to be invited," Amonett said. "One person doesn't do it all."
Council members said they will, among other things, make a special effort to tighten the regulations governing the county's use of tax increment financing and industrial development revenue bonds, two tools that are used as incentives for luring developers to targeted areas.
The county has established 10 tax increment financing districts since 1981. In those districts, a portion of the property tax revenues paid to the county by businesses are funneled into a special fund for road improvements and other public amenities within the districts. The districts generate about $5 million a year, according to economic development officials, and there is now about $13 million in the fund.
Some council members and community activists have argued that the diverted funds should be freed for use in other areas of financial need within the county.
County Council member Hilda Pemberton suggested that the districts were a good idea when county revenues were constrained by TRIM, the tax-limiting charter amendment, but that the council should explore new ways to spend the money. "We can use those moneys to do something else," she said.
Glendening, however, argues that the special funds are needed to upgrade the transportation network that is needed to support development. "We have a fairly immense transportation backlog," he said. The special funds need to be reserved to solve that problem, he said.
Nonetheless, Glendening said yesterday he has "no great problem" with the council's new-found aggressive stance.
Council Administrator Samuel Wynkoop said that the new muscle-flexing is a sign that the council "wants to be an equal partner in what the government is undertaking." But council member Richard Castaldi warned that his colleagues' new concerns may fall prey to parochial concerns.
"We're looking at our districts and want to bring home the best projects for our districts," Castaldi said. "We also want to get the best projects for Prince George's County, and that won't be spread evenly."