Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks presented her first proposed budget as county leader last week with the same optimism and fervor she had at her inauguration three months prior.
Similar to her predecessor, Rushern L. Baker III, the $4.2 billion fiscal 2020 spending plan recommends the highest amount of additional money for education and public safety.
According to a budget summary, nearly $2.1 billion, or 60 percent, would be allocated for education and $775 million, or 22 percent, for public safety.
“This is in line with our priorities and our values,” Alsobrooks said Thursday, March 14 to county officials at the Wayne K. Curry Administration Building in Largo. “The challenge is the pie needs to grow. We have so many priorities in our county. There are still areas we need resources in.”
Education remains one of the major topics in the Maryland General Assembly as state lawmakers continue to work on the Kirwan Commission report, which proposes to restructure the public education system that assesses schools are underfunded by $2.9 billion annually.
A November 2016 report from Denver-based consulting firm Augenblick, Palaich & Assoc., hired by the state Department of Education to assess inadequacies in education, showed Prince George’s County as the most underfunded at more than $600 million.
A transition team report released March 5 outlines some of the county’s goal for education, including nearly $1 billion in school construction over a seven-year period through public and private partnerships.
“We feel no shame … and unapologetic in our request for additional construction funding and operation funding,” Alsobrooks said. “That is because … the first obligation of government is to educate children. It’s in the Maryland state constitution.”
In regard to public safety, about $208 million is earmarked to bring in 48 new recruits and 300 sets of gear and to bolster recruitment efforts of the fire department.
The police department budget, $362 million, includes money for 100 new recruits in five different classes.
With county officials praising the jurisdiction’s low crime rate, county police Chief Hank Stawinski also outlined the department’s efforts in other aspects such as driver safety.
State lawmakers continue to review pending legislation to decrease crashes and improve infrastructure along Route 210, which stretches near the D.C. border in Oxon Hill into neighboring Charles County and is considered one of the most dangerous highways in the region.
Instead of placing cameras at various intersections along Route 210, as called for in the original legislation, an amendment would have the Maryland State Highway Administration and the county’s Public Works and Transportation Department examine the road and report any findings and recommendations to the governor and General Assembly by May 2021.
Since July, about a half-dozen fatal crashes occurred on the highway in Prince George’s. The department issued more than 10,000 citations and 70 arrests on the highway last year.
“The question becomes is it just the driving behavior or is it just the infrastructure? In my opinion, it is both,” Stawinski said. “We can continue to work on the behavior. We can continue to do enforcement, but at the end of the day, we need help with that infrastructure where I’m relying on the county executive. I’m relying on the governor. I’m relying on our partners with the State Highway Administration to help us come up with a solution to keep people safe.”
One change from Baker that Alsobrooks pledges to make is trash pickup, which would revert to two days a week versus the current once-a-week collection.
She outlined this plan in a transition report, saying food and yard waste would be collected on one day and trash on the second day.
About $200,000 would be set aside to purchase food waste containers and expansion of food waste collection. In addition, about 12 new positions would be created in the Department of Environment for trash pickup.
On Thursday, she said trash and food waste collection would be phased in over a three-year period and start with 3,000 homes “to see how that goes.”
An exact start date hasn’t been determined, but a public launch would happen in the spring.
Now the county council will review the budget and hold several public hearings.
“Addressing the county’s budget priorities in fiscal year 2020 demands efficient and effective management of the county’s finances,” Council Chairman Todd Turner (D-District 4) of Bowie said in a statement. “We appreciate the great vision, focus and diligence of the executive branch in formulating this proposed spending plan.”