Debnam recognized for advocacy at Laurel Town Hall

Prince George's County Council member Mary Lehman and County Executive Rushern Baker III spoke about county affairs and fielded questions from community members during a Town Hall meeting Thursday at the Laurel-Beltsville Senior Activity Center.

Lehman began the meeting by presenting a proclamation to Laurel resident Brent Debnam for his community service and advocacy. Debnam, 23, a quadriplegic who has cerebral palsy, served for two years as the People On the Go representative for the Arc of Prince George's County, advocating in the Maryland House of Delegates for the needs of people with disabilities.

This past April, after raising thousands of dollars, community members began work on a project to renovate Debnam's Laurel Avenue home and make it wheelchair accessible.

"Brent Debnam exemplifies the kindness, generosity and goodness of spirit that can help lift an entire community and bring everyone together," Lehman said.

Baker, who joined Lehman midway through the meeting, mentioned he would soon announce the new chief of the county's public school system.

"We're very excited about the person we're bringing in," Baker said, noting that the new superintendent, who Friday was announced to be Anne Arundel County Superintendent Kevin Maxwell, spent 22 years working in Prince George's County.

Lehman discussed the Laurel Library redevelopment project and showed a mock-up of the new 31,000-square-foot building. The current building is expected to be demolished in January 2014, Lehman said, with construction on the new one beginning in March. The city's Emancipation Community Park, located next to the library, will receive enhancements such as basketball courts and an amphitheater.

"I think it's just going to be fantastic," Lehman said.

Lehman said one of the county's biggest accomplishments with the fiscal year 2014 budget was allocating $2.5 million for the public library system after several years of cuts. These funds will support Sunday hours at three branches that have yet to be determined.

Other questions answered by Lehman and Baker during the meeting addressed topics such as road conditions, summer school tuition and the 311 County Click system. 

Baker touted the county's new Department of Permits, Inspections and Enforcement, which will streamline tasks regarding commercial and residential permitting processes.

"For the first time," Baker said, "Prince George's County will actually have one department that's focused on making us greener, making us smarter, making us do better."

Responding to a question about foreclosure rates, Baker said property values in Prince George's County are on the upswing "for the first time in a while." The county held its annual housing fair this month and is working to reach out to people who might be in danger of foreclosing, he said. 

"I think we're on the right track," Baker said. 

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