This month marks the start of my sixth month serving as your County Council Member and I continue to be grateful to represent such an incredibly diverse area of Prince George's County. Reviewing the County Executive's Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal has been my primary focus recently, including the review of individual agency budgets. But I've also been working on other initiatives.
A few weeks ago, Councilwomen Mary Lehman, Deni Taveras, and I co-proposed legislation to ban businesses and restaurants from using Styrofoam take-out containers and cups. That legislation passed unanimously and will phase in over the next year and a half. My colleagues, Councilwomen Karen Toles and Mary Lehman, and I have also presented legislation to create Food Truck Hubs in Prince George's County. This legislation will bring high-quality Food Trucks to Prince George's County in select sites with a goal of increasing healthy food options and promoting revitalization and entrepreneurship. I anticipate a hearing on the legislation in June and then will make additional tweaks to the legislation to address feedback.
Last week, I brought together 50 individuals whose nonprofit organizations do work in District 3 for a Nonprofit Networking Breakfast. I'm excited to see what new and strengthened collaborations come out of the connections made that morning. If you work with a nonprofit that does work in District 3 and did not receive an invitation, please let me know. I plan to host another event for our nonprofits in the fall.
The next event in my "Experience, Expand, Explore District 3" series is scheduled for Sunday, May 31st from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. at the Prince George's African American Museum and Cultural Center at North Brentwood, Inc. PGAAMCC may be located in North Brentwood, but it is a museum for all Prince Georgians. Please plan to attend this special private event for District 3 residents which will feature exhibits as well as stories from District 3 residents.
Over the past few months, I have heard from hundreds of residents about the budget. More than 150 people formally testified at County Council budget hearings, the Council held numerous meetings on the budget to review 34 agency budgets and nondepartmental funding. I have personally received and responded to over 600 emails. I have had a chance to speak with many of you in the community at various civic association events.
This is a challenging budget year. My colleagues and I are working towards agreement to approve a budget by June 1st. The County is in the third year of a structural deficit (expenses are exceeding revenues) and at the same time the Board of Education is looking for additional investment to fund its education plan. M-NCPPC is also challenged fiscally and may need to cut staff, services and projects.
As I weigh how I will vote, it is important to me that the County continues to move forward, not reverse our accomplishments, and begin a path to fiscal sustainability. If you haven't read my last budget update, please read it here. In addition, there are several reoccurring questions people have asked about the budget which I thought I will try to address here.
There are a host of reasons why the County faces a fiscal challenge - a slower recovery from the recession; continuing foreclosures; a shift in expenses, such as teacher's pensions from the state to county; federal sequestration; and contractual obligations. Find out more here.
What about the Gaming Revenue?
Portions of revenue generated by the slots and table games across the state are directed to the Maryland Education Trust Fund. Those are reported monthly here and were about $85 million in April 2015. This money is then used as a portion of the state funding that comes to counties. In the case of Prince George's, roughly 65% of our total education funding comes from the state, this year totaling $1 billion. We are the 17th largest school system in the Country. The remainder is providing by County revenue. Click here for more information. Prince George's County's MGM Casino is being built now. We expect to see revenue from it in fiscal year 2017.
How does the County have authority?
"SB 848" was passed in 2012 and can be found here. It allows Counties to raise revenues above a tax threshold, but only for education. It was passed by the Maryland General Assembly to address concerns that arose during the great recession when some counties, including Prince George's, could not meet Maintenance of Effort. It was approved at the same time the state began shifting a portion of pension costs to the counties. The law has already been used by Talbot County. In a letter dated April 1, 2015, Counsel for the General Assembly advised this proposed course of action is authorized under Maryland law. Maintenance of Effort is a state regulation:
"THE MINIMUM APPROPRIATION OF LOCAL FUNDS 21 REQUIRED UNDER THIS SUBSECTION FOR THE NEXT FISCAL YEAR SHALL BE CALCULATED BASED ON THE PER PUPIL LOCAL APPROPRIATION FOR THE PRIOR FISCAL YEAR IN WHICH THE COUNTY MET THE MAINTENANCE OF EFFORT REQUIREMENT UNDER PARAGRAPH (1)(II) OF THIS SUBSECTION." - (Taken from SB 848)
What about homeowners on a fixed income?
Currently, homeowners who earn $60,000 or less per year and have net assets of $200,000 (not including your house or retirement) or less are eligible for the State's Homeowners' Property Tax Credit Program, which limits the amount of property taxes any homeowner must pay based on income. The application deadline is September 1, 2015. Log on here for complete details. As part of the proposed education revenue package plan, the County Executive has indicated that he will propose a supplemental tax credit program to assist seniors and low income individuals and families who earn between $60,000 and $70,000 or less, if the 15 cents is approved.
Community engagement on the budget has been incredible. I hope you will remain engaged in other issues crucial to the future of Prince George's County. The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission is creating a Trails Master Plan for Prince George's County, which calls for a 400-mile trail system, a significant increase from the 120 miles of trail currently in the County. M-NCPPC is hosting three open houses in June to ensure trails include features that most residents want, with a key goal of ensuring at least one trail is within a 15 minute walk or bike ride from most residents. Please plan to attend the North County Open House on Wednesday, June 10th, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Parks and Recreation Administrative Building, 660 Kenilworth Ave., Riverdale, to share your opinions and ideas.
Together Strengthening Our Community,