Facing an unexpected $5.4 million budget shortfall, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III has proposed a delay in the hiring of public safety officials, instituting a lower level of funding for snow removal, and a cut to cost-of-living increases negotiated by his predecessor Jack Johnson. According to a story in the The Gazette, members of County Executive Baker’s staff have indicated he will be requesting an additional $17 million in cuts to the proposed FY 2012 budget during the council’s meeting this week.
“[Collections] are way below what we thought,” said Thomas Himler, director of the county’s Office of Management and Budget.
The certain cuts come from the lagging housing market, which has been slow to improve since the housing market tanked in 2007.
The other potential cuts come from a set of contracts that would give about 1,500 workers with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees a 2 percent cost-of-living raise. Overall, those raises would cost the county $820,000 through July and about $1.6 million next fiscal year.
Baker has called on the County Council to reject the contracts, which were negotiated by Johnson, because the county cannot afford the extra expense. Baker staff members have argued that the county would also have to provide similar raises to the remaining 5,500 workers in the county work force — which would cost $12.8 million total next fiscal year.
“The crux of our position is that we do not favor [raises] in this fiscal year,” Deputy Chief of Staff Bradley Frome told council members at a Wednesday meeting. “Our position is quite clear to all government employees. No other county is doing [raises] this year.”
Additionally, Baker is expected to request a delay in hiring of police officers, firefighters and corrections officers. Baker has submitted a proposal to the County Council detailing cuts he thinks the Council will need to make to balance the county budget. Among those cuts would be the scaling back of the county’s snow removal contract and the removal of a tree-and flower-planting event. Most notable of the cuts would be the cost-of-living increase previously negotiated for 450 unionized PG County employees. From the Washington Post:
The cost-of-living increase, which was negotiated by Baker’s predecessor, Jack B. Johnson (D), would cost the county $1.2 million annually. A public hearing on the contract is scheduled Wednesday evening in Upper Marlboro, and it is up to the County Council to decide whether to approve it.
Baker said that if the council approves the raise, the ripple effect would be a much bigger problem. Inevitably, the raise for some employees would lead to a pay increase for the other 5,500 county workers, Baker said. That would up the cost to about $12 million a year, Baker’s staff estimates, and that would strain the county’s spare $2.6 billion budget.
With an across-the-board cost-of-living increase, Baker would have to make deeper cuts in public safety and public schools, he said, and those would backfire on the county’s efforts to attract businesses and expand the commercial tax base.
Baker’s proposal includes cutting the 250 public safety positions that are currently on hold to be filled. It also includes the following cuts to education:
- Cut $1.3 million from the county’s contribution to the public schools, which totals about $613 million, and $1 million from the county’s $29 million contribution to Prince George’s Community College.
- Eliminate $105,700 for school-based mental health services.
- Compel the schools to pay for their security rather than using county police, saving $204,500…
The immediate $5.4 million shortfall is a combination of less-than-anticipated collections in real estate transaction taxes, which in the first three months of the year were down 6.3 percent. The county also must shoulder $4.46 million in new costs transferred to the counties from the state government to pay for the property assessor’s office.
But the county also picked up some new money from the General Assembly, much of it aimed at the schools, which helped limit the reductions to $5.4 million.