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Prince George's County Executive proposes 'lean' FY14 budget

Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III's proposed budget for fiscal year 2014, released Thursday, will implement five-day furloughs, "minimal reduction" in the workforce and an incentivized voluntary retirement program.

The budget, which follows a theme, "Thinking Anew: Building a More Effective and Efficient Government," is composed of $3.24 billion in funds, a 0.6 percent increase compared to the fiscal year 2013 budget.

Baker told citizens at a Feb. 12 budget hearing at Laurel High School that the county was projected to face a $152.2 million deficit for fiscal year 2014, and that "hard decisions" would need to be made to keep expenditures down.

"We took these fiscal challenges as an opportunity to streamline our operations, make data-driven decisions and prioritize our spending in ways that strengthen our government and optimize our resources," county officials said in a press release.

The budget seeks to prioritize funds with regards to seven focus areas: the economy, education, neighborhood safety, health care, human services, environmental sustainability and efficient government operations.

"Despite the challenging effects of the recession that continue to impact revenues and place tremendous pressure on our budget, we feel confident that these strategic investments will provide positive outcomes and measurable results for our citizens," Baker said in the press release.

The budget's education funding surpasses the "maintenance of effort" requirements by $11 million. In addition, operating hours will be maintained at all 19 branches of the Prince George's County Memorial Library System.

Increased funds will be given to the State's Attorney Office, which will be used to hire two new investigators and further support the Gun and Drug Unit.

The Prince George's County Police Department will add 80 new officers through two recruit classes, and funds have been allotted for 35 new fire/EMS recruits and 20 new correctional officers.

The budget signifies the formation of the Department of Permits, Inspections and Enforcement, or DPIE, a government agency that will consolidate tasks related to the permitting and inspections processes.

Under the proposed budget, the county will invest $16 million in its Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, which focuses on public safety and education in six designated areas of the county.

The Economic Development Incentive Fund will receive additional investments, allowing local businesses to apply for funds in an effort to expand and succeed.

While specific figures were not mentioned, the press release cites continued progress toward a new healthcare system and "expanded" housing assistance. Also cited is a long-term investment intended to improve water quality and storm-water management.

Calling the budget "lean and comprehensive," the press release says tough decisions were made to offset "slow and stagnate growth."

"We made critical investments to improve our schools, provide safe neighborhoods, maintain high-quality health and human service levels and protect and beautify our environment," Baker said in the press release.

"The good news is we are starting to turn a corner and I am confident that the investment in the priorities that I have outlined in the budget will bring more opportunity to Prince George's County," he said.

The Prince George's County Council has until June 1 to approve Baker's budget.

Dan Singer is a journalism student at University of Maryland.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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