Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker III wasted no time in telling attendees of his third and final fiscal year 2014 budget hearing that it will be a "very difficult budget year across the county."
With a $152.2 million deficit projected for 2014, Baker told community members at Laurel High School Tuesday night that he will need to have "tough discussions" and make some "hard decisions" in the coming weeks.
A fiscal year 2014 budget forecast from December 2012 estimates the county will have slightly more than $2.8 billion in expenditures and receive about $2.65 billion in revenue.
While Baker's first hearing at Prince George's Community College had a low turnout and featured only two testimonies, more than 20 individuals spoke at Laurel High, hoping to persuade the county executive to allocate funds to their organizations.
Wearing bright yellow shirts, several members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994 union asked Baker to protect funding for the Prince George's County Memorial Library System, which they said has seen increased traffic over the last four years despite budget cuts and being open fewer hours.
"In fiscal year 2010, the library lost almost 6,000 hours," said Barbara Simon, the regional president of Friends of Prince George's County Libraries. "We need to turn those statistics around."
Education reform was also well represented during the testimonies.
Pushing for $100,000 to renovate High Point High School, High Point PTSA President Linda Diasgranados said that the school is in "terrible" condition.
"We have mold in our classrooms," she said. "I walked into one classroom and had to leave."
Tanya Lawson, president of the Oxon Hill High School PTSA, said the county must "increase its commitment and dedication to education reform and making education a priority."
Joseph Fisher, asking for continued funding for his Laurel-based grassroots organization First Generation College Bound, said that 425 alumni from his program have graduated college, and that 300 are still enrolled
Representing the Maryland Multicultural Youth Centers, Anaissa Escobar described how the organization's counseling program helped her manage her depression.
"Please do not forget youths like me," Escobar said.
Baker made a point to acknowledge the positive strides Prince George's County has made since he took office in December 2010.
Homicides in the county were down by more than 30 percent this year, and Prince George's "led the state in reduction in crime in every category," he said.
In addition, Baker noted the ongoing progress of the Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative, a program that seeks to improve education and public safety in six focus areas of the county. He said the program's goal is to make the county a national leader by allowing each of its areas to "rise up."
Still, talk of the impending budget deficit and cuts dominated the hearing, as Baker and Terri Charles, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget, took notes while listening to the testimonies.
"Now we have the difficult decision of where to put the resources," Baker said after the hearing.
Baker and Charles will present the proposed budget to the Prince George's County Council in mid-March.
Dan Singer is a journalism student at the University of Maryland College Park.