Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) is proposing a fiscal 2018 budget that includes modest spending increases on teacher salaries, economic development and other initiatives, fueled by rising property values and the first full year of revenue from the new MGM casino at National Harbor.
The $3.84 billion spending plan would fund hundreds of new police, sheriff and fire recruits, as well as programming targeted at the some of the county’s most vulnerable populations: senior citizens and the disabled.
The budget does not include an increase in the property tax rate, although some homeowners would pay about $25 more in taxes because their property values are rising.
In anticipation of federal spending cuts promised by President Trump, Baker built up reserves and included provisions for shifting resources to cover spending that previously came from the federal government.
But contraction of the federal budget is still expected to affect the county, which is home to nearly 69,000 federal workers and relies on about $225 million in federal grants for housing, health, education and other needs.
Officials say they will try to blunt any disruption by finding new funding sources, possibly including charging fees for certain services.
“We still need to deliver those services,” Baker said. “We’ve made a very modest and fiscally conservative budget. It’s got to remain that way. We don’t know what to expect.”
The budget would boost spending nearly 4 percent, or $131 million — Baker’s smallest increase in the last three years.
An estimated $34 million in direct revenue is expected from MGM National Harbor, half of which must be spent on education. Budget and finance director Thomas Himler said that estimate is slightly lower than expected because the new casino had to pay a few million dollars to Anne Arundel County to offset the effect of its opening on the Maryland Live casino’s revenue.
The MGM theater also did not book as many shows as anticipated, Himler said. However, revenue from table games were slightly higher than expected and made up the difference.
The largest chunk of the casino revenue — $11 million — will support the recruitment and training of 200 new police recruits, 115 firefighters and 25 new sheriff’s deputies to offset attrition. More than $7 million would help pay tuition for community college students, deliver library books to children under 5 and assist four struggling high schools with large numbers of English-language learners.
Baker’s schools budget falls far short of the funding request submitted by Kevin Maxwell, his hand-picked school system chief executive. Maxwell, whose contract Baker recently extended, sought a $122.6 million increase in education spending, the bulk of which would go to teacher salaries and professional development.
Baker instead offered an increase of $39.1 million, or 2 percent.
The budget includes $9 million in spending for Baker’s Economic Development Incentive Fund and $22 million for the Suitland Town Center development project.
Baker wants to set aside $5.1 million for two new housing programs: assistance for first-time home buyers and gap financing for affordable, mixed-income workforce housing.
The budget also would fund an apprenticeship program for 10 developmentally disabled adults through the Department of Family Services and a counseling program for senior citizens looking to live independently.
The Prince George’s County Council will spend the next several weeks reviewing Baker’s proposal. The council must adopt a final budget resolution before June 1.