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Prince George’s Council OKs Fiscal 2017 Budget; No Tax Increase

After last year’s budget hassle that ultimately resulted in a tax hike for Prince George’s County residents, the county council adopted the fiscal 2017 budget Thursday without incident — and without a tax increase.

The $3.7 billion budget, which would go into effect July 1, is an increase of 4.5 percent from the current budget and makes major boosts toward education and public safety.

“Together we have made significant progress in the progression and transformation of county in fiscal year 2017, but there is still work ahead to achieve the great and excellent future of Prince George’s County,” said Council Chairman Derrick Davis (D-District 6) of Upper Marlboro. “We are all change agents that will guide our county to greatness.”

Last year, council voted to override budget vetoes from County Executive Rushern L. Baker III to impose a 15 percent increase, mainly to help fund education. He even threatened to take council to court based on adjusting the budget by more than 1 percent, but that didn’t happen.

Council eventually passed a 4 percent tax increase, the first hike residents paid in more than three decades.

“What a difference a year makes. Being a new member was kind of a trial by fire,” said Councilman Todd Turner (D-District 4) of Bowie, elected to council in 2014 and worked on his first budget last year.

Councilwoman Andrea C. Harrison (D-District 5) of Springdale wasn’t present for the budget approval.

Based on recommendations from Baker this year, education will receive the most funding at $1.9 billion, or 63 percent of the entire budget. Half of the anticipated revenue from the MGM Casino at National Harbor, expected to open later this year, will go toward public schools, the community college and libraries.

Construction and renovation projects are also scheduled at several schools such as Fairmount Heights and Suitland high schools and William Wirt Middle School in Riverdale.

The second-highest expenditure will be public safety, largely for the Police Department at

$307 million. About 150 officers will be hired, with some replacing those schedule to retire. Funds also got allocated to build the new police headquarters in Upper Marlboro.

Council also approved Baker’s recommendation to use $1 million to combat domestic violence, which has contributed to several high-profile deaths this year. The county’s Health and Human Services will be one of the main agencies handling the money to offer mental health and other services.

Council contributed another $1.5 million for nonprofit organizations to assist in the battle against domestic violence. For example, the Family Crisis Center of Brentwood remains the only agency in the county that provides up to three months of temporary housing for those physically abused.

Officials will celebrate the grand opening June 9 for a Family Justice Center in Upper Marlboro, which will combine public and private services and resources for domestic violence victims.

“This is one of those things… you are punched in the gut when someone is put in that situation,” Davis said. “This is our effort to ensure we are doing everything we can to have a coordinated continuum of care that will work for families.”

In terms of revenue, the general fund anticipates collecting $3.1 million, an increase of $158 million, or 5.4 percent from the current budget. This stems from an increase in property, income and energy taxes, according to the budget.

The MGM Casino anticipates brining in nearly $20 million scheduled to open later this year, with about $3 million of that allotment to upgrade portions of Route 210.

Also on Thursday, council introduced a bill for the Baker administration to provide specific requirements when awarding contracts for government services. About $500,000 will create a new compliance division within the Office of Central Services that includes software to track the contracts.

“This came up a lot during our (budget) hearing process,” said Council Vice Chairwoman Dannielle Glaros (D-District 3) of Riverdale Park. “That was negotiated with the administration. All of pushed very hard on that.”

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