Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan yesterday proposed what he called an austere $519.7 million budget that would raise the property tax rate to its charter-mandated limit for the first time; provide funds for additional police, fire and corrections officers; and, for the first time in years, reduce funds for county schools. Under his budget, county schools would have $7.3 million less to spend in fiscal 1983 than in 1982.
Hogan said his proposed budget reflected both "a very stringent fiscal outlook" and spending decisions in accord with shifting public priorities.
"If you're asking me if I put a higher priority on crime than on education, the answer is 'yes,' " said Hogan. "If you're asking me if the people of Prince George's put a higher priority on crime than on education, the answer is 'yes.' "
The proposals by Hogan, who is seeking the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, must be approved by the Democrat-controlled County Council.
Council members and education officials immediately denounced some of the cuts, particularly those in education, saying the losses would be devastating because of inflation and earlier tight budgets. "That's the thing that makes my eyes water," said councilwoman Ann Landry Lombardi. "It seems to me that we're making Prince George's in the character of an underdeveloped country. A characteristic of an underdeveloped country is one with an illiterate people and a strong police force . . . Education is the future," she said.
Council member Sue V. Mills, a past member of the school board, said that if current school programs continue, Hogan's education budget would not provide enough money to pay for an already negotiated contract for teachers. She said, "Obviously, Hogan has to give them teachers more than he's offering. He's obviously creating an aura of confrontation and in that kind of atmosphere everybody loses."
Hogan's budget for the fiscal year, which begins in July, proposes an increase of $15 million in spending over this year, a rise of about 3 percent. Approximately 31 percent of the budget comes from property taxes, 27.8 percent from state aid and about 20 percent from income taxes. The remainder includes federal aid, which is 4.6 percent of the budget, and assorted taxes and fees. Federal aid to the county was slashed 14.5 percent, with education suffering the biggest loss.
Some specifics of the budget proposal:
A real estate property tax rate of $2.63 per $100 of assessed value, an increase of three cents per $100 over last year. The rate represents the limit permitted under the TRIM charter amendment, which holds county revenue from property taxes to the 1979 level of $143 million. Hogan also proposed to offset the increase by reducing the combined Park and Planning and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission tax rates by 3.58 cents.
Money for 50 additional police officers, three civilian police positions, 25 firefighters, 11 emergency medical technicians and 35 guards for the county jail. Hogan said the extra officers would allow the police to provide "greater preventive patrol coverage" and more walking patrols. He said the guards were added to comply with a recent court agreement in a lawsuit charging jail overcrowding.
An increase of $1.6 million for the county's share of Metro, a total contribution of $5.5 million.
An allocation for the Board of Education that is $7.3 million less than the budget approved for this year. Hogan recommended that the board receive $300.9 million, a decrease of 2.4 percent and about $37 million less than the board had requested. School Budget Director George Riddler said the proposed budget marks the first decrease in actual funds "in at least 15 years," in what was once one of the fastest growing school systems in the country. To save money, Hogan suggested that the school board disregard last year's negotiated agreement with county teachers.
"If the board is determined to fully fund the second year of its excessive labor agreements, there will be a significant adverse impact on class size and educational programs," Hogan warned in his budget message. "That would be regrettable."
School officials said yesterday that they had expected the worst from the Hogan budget, as Hogan had said earlier that superintendent Edward Feeney's budget was unfundable under the limits of TRIM.
Although public safety did receive increases, police and fire union officials said they were far from satisfied. "It's about 100 (officers) short of our actual, absolute need," said Mahlon Curran, president of the county's Fraternal Order of Police.
"We have less uniformed firefighters than any other metropolitan firefighting (district) in the area," said Ronald W. Milor, head of the firefighters' union. "Twenty-five is a drop in the bucket." Milor, who lives in Calvert County, called on Prince George's residents to consider modifying TRIM. Milor said the public safety workers soon would begin a campaign -- including an "informational" picket line -- to bring their needs to public attention.
School spokeman Brian Porter said Superintendent Feeney would defend last year's teacher contract settlement. "The contract is the last thing he (Feeney) is going to touch in the struggle for funding public schools," said Porter. The Hogan budget "would hamstring the school system and gore it," Porter added.
The County Council must approve or modify Hogan's proposals by June 1.