More than 100 residents braved the morning heat Friday to demand that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III reconsider his decision to delay by one year the opening of a highly anticipated police station in the Fort Washington area.
The group gathered across the street from the construction site where workers are placing the final touches on a building that was expected to be operational this fall, staffed with officers who would patrol the expansive southern region of the county.
Baker (D) has put those plans on hold, saying that the County Council’s rejection of furloughs and a major tax increase he proposed for the 2016 budget has required him to trim spending in other ways.
To community members, the news felt like a broken promise.
“We need more officers,” said JoAnn Fisher, 68, who lives along Indian Head Highway. “It’s just that simple.”
For more than 15 years, residents have complained about troubling response times of police coming from Oxon Hill and Clinton-area stations to answer calls from residents in Fort Washington and Accokeek.
“We have waited long and long and long,” council member Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington) said to the cheering crowd, which also included council member Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland) and former council member Ingrid Turner. “Enough is enough. We want that station open . . . on time and with staff.”
State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s), who represents the area, echoed the crowd’s frustrations and criticized Baker’s recent purchase of a Largo-area office building that is slated to become the new headquarters for county government.
The council rejected a $12 million request from Baker to renovate that facility this year, claiming they wanted more information about the executive’s vision first.
“Let the building wait and give us this District VII police station,” Muse said. “If we can wait for 15 years for this, they can wait two years to move the county administration building.”
The Baker administration defended its decision, saying it is disingenuous of lawmakers to claim ignorance when they were warned in a letter that the station was at risk if they rejected the executive’s spending plan.
“Not one Council member contacted my office to raise concerns, request clarification or verification that our assessment of the impact their cuts would have on government operations,” Baker said in a statement released Friday.
Council Chairman Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) said the issue could be resolved swiftly by using money that is being held in a contingency fund. The fund was created when legislators ordered the executive branch to set aside 2 percent of each agency’s budget because of “overspending” in previous years.
“The money is in the budget,” Franklin said. ‘That’s the kind of dialogue we should’ve had.”