Prince George's County's financial posture worsened yesterday as County Executive Parris N. Glendening eliminated 32 jobs and projected a $49.9 million revenue shortfall only weeks after forecasting a $36.6 million deficit.
"What we are seeing is a second round of projections that have worsened because of a downturn in the construction industry and a sagging real estate market," said Glendening, who met with other county officials and members of the state legislative delegation yesterday to discuss further cuts in the county's nearly $1 billion budget.
Glendening's belt-tightening will eliminate 32 positions in three county offices that conduct building inspections and issue permits: the Department of Environmental Resources, the Department of Public Works and Transportation and the Fire Department.
Only 10 people will actually lose their jobs, however, because 22 of the identified positions are vacant because of attrition. The 10 employees who received two weeks' notice yesterday morning work in the Department of Environmental Resources and had been hired within the last nine months, officials said.
Meanwhile, Maryland officials have projected a $270 million deficit, and Virginia is trying to whittle $1.4 billion from a two-year budget. Montgomery County officials are looking for ways to offset a projected $30 million deficit.
Glendening said he targeted building inspection and permit services because construction in Prince George's declined by 23 percent in the first quarter of the fiscal year. The downturn in the real estate market, particularly in the commercial sector, accounts for almost 70 percent of the county's projected $49.9 million shortfall, said County Budget Director Major F. Riddick. In addition to the decline in building permits issued, the county's transfer and recordation taxes are down by 30 percent and sales at the Collington Center office and industrial park are almost $7 million below what was projected.
The reductions in the permit and inspection work force are the latest in a series of cost-saving measures enacted this month, including restrictions on travel, mass mailings and purchases. Glendening also imposed a hiring freeze in all departments except education earlier this month.
Projecting at least two years of hard times, Glendening asked agency heads to prepare "revised work programs," with budget reductions of 5, 10 and 15 percent in mind. A 15 percent reduction in county spending, which would save almost $70 million, was described as a worst-case scenario that would be enacted only if the deficit grows substantially.
Based on the responses, Glendening said he will announce departmental budget cuts over the next two weeks.
"Obviously," he said, "some reduction in services is inevitable in these times. But we are trying to minimize the adverse effect on the public and protect the populations that are most in need."
Glendening said the pending budget cuts will not affect education or public safety, and he promised to protect a select number of programs that deal with senior citizens, disadvantaged youth and the poor.
Although the county's contribution to the $552 million school budget will not change, the schools have not avoided the economic downturn.
School officials are searching for ways to scale back in the face of a $6 million shortfall, reflecting the loss of federal aid for magnet schools.
"We are facing some very serious fiscal problems," school spokeswoman Bonnie Jenkins said. "It looks like it's going to be tough all over for a while."