ONE BY ONE, the local governments of Greater Washington, like the state governments in Annapolis and Richmond, are having to share with their people some unpleasant fiscal facts of life in a nationwide economic slowdown. This week, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening posted some gloomy numbers that among other things will mean postponing plans to hire 200 police officers. The projected shortfall in the county is largely because of a 33 percent decrease in revenue from real estate transactions. County planners' projections now indicate that real estate transfer and recordation tax revenues may drop at least $20 million. Other cuts in federal and state assistance won't help matters either. Still, Mr. Glendening had a few words of relative encouragement, observing that "when it all bottoms out, I don't think we'll have as deep a cut as other jurisdictions."
At this point, however, Mr. Glendening sees "18 months of hard decision-making, hard fiscal management ahead of us." If the economy continues down, a freeze on hiring won't be enough, he says. For now, the board of education and current public safety programs are to be exempt from cuts, but the decision to delay the hiring of new police officers is not sitting all that well with county council members. Mr. Glendening has a reasonable response, however; he says it would be unfair to hire new employees who might soon be laid off. Besides, he says, the decision is just to postpone, not to cancel, the recruitment.
There isn't a county executive, mayor or local board member in this region who can avoid these unpopular decisions in the name of fiscal prudence. And given the numbers in the District of Columbia, other jurisdictions may take at least some tiny comfort in the knowledge that their bureaucracies aren't quite so fat and their obligations to provide social services aren't so huge. Prince George's has posted an average budget growth of 9 percent annually for the past several years, mostly because it has enjoyed a period of active development spurred by the availability of relatively inexpensive land in good locations. That may not bring joy to every household in the county, but neither is it cause at this point for great alarm.