May 28, 2015

 

Dear Friends,

 

Earlier today, I joined my colleagues in voting on my first budget as your councilwoman.  This Fiscal Year 2016 (FY2016) County Budget will start on July 1, 2015 and continue through June 30, 2016.

 

This measured budget is the work of countless hours of work by my colleagues and me to listen, ask questions and reach consensus.  This deliberate approach will begin the path to fiscal sustainability, create greater checks to ensure wise use of taxpayer dollars and address revenue shortfalls.

 

Between the County Executive releasing his budget proposal in mid-March and this vote, there has been a great deal of dialogue.

  • I heard from-and responded to-nearly 700 residents via email and phone.
  • I spoke and answered questions at more than a dozen District 3 civic association and municipal Council meetings as well as my Town Hall.  I shared information in two newsletters here and here.
  • The Council held more than 35 hearings on individual agency/department budgets and reviewed documents.
I deeply appreciate every opinion and question shared with me over the past 11 weeks. It is clear that the residents of Prince George's County care deeply about the future of our County and about providing an excellent education for our children.  Your questions and comments pushed me to ask hard questions of Dr. Maxwell and each of our County agency directors.

 

Together as a County, we have wrestled with an extraordinarily difficult set of choices with this budget. After all, that's what a budget is at its essence-a set of choices of what will get funded, what will not get funded and how we will pay for it.

 

As you may know, I have two children in the Prince George's County Public School system. Every day I see teachers and staff working incredibly hard. I see the resources that our schools lack. And I see children who deserve an excellent education. I also have seen first-hand the effect deep cuts can have on the quality of education.

 

I am also a homeowner in Prince George's County. I see the foreclosures in my neighborhood and have seen my property value plummet, as my zip code became a foreclosure hot spot.  I know many individuals and families are still struggling. 

 

 The FY2016 County Budget adopted by the County Council today strikes a balance between using your money wisely and making limited investments that will move Prince George's County forward.  These were not easy choices.  Although I believe the County is poised for great growth, tough budget discussions will be with us for the next few years. 

 

This budget will take effect on July 1, 2015.  As adopted by the Council today, the FY16 Budget includes the following highlights:

  • 2% across-the-board cut in operating dollars to be placed in a contingency fund. This will slow County spending and reserve $15 million for hospital funding if Governor Hogan continues to break the state's MOU to provide $15 million this year to the Prince George's County Hospital.
  • Overall 67% reduction in the proposed 15.6% tax increase proposal to raise $34 million for the Board of Education's PGCPS budget. This offsets the $30+ million (as of FY16) unfunded mandate of the state shifting teacher pension costs to the County and covers MOE. 
    • $0.04 increase in the real property tax rate
    • $0.10 increase in the personal property tax rate
    • 1% increase in the telecommunications tax
  • 2% increase in the Hotel/Motel Tax to raise $3.1 million for the non-PGCPS portions of the budget (accepting the County Executive's proposal).
  • Increase permit/license fee and street use permits to raise $7.16 million to assist in addressing the structural deficit and eliminate the proposed furloughs.
  • Address M-NCPPC shortfall with a $0.0150 increase (half of their request). This will still entail significant belt-tightening by the agency and stop some planned projects. 

As a new Council Member, I inherited a difficult budget.  For the past seven years, the County has been addressing annual budget deficits while working to grow its commercial tax base and provide better county services.  Many of our employees have not seen raises in seven years, our social services program is underfunded, pensions are underfunded and our rainy-day fund is dramatically low.  These are also many of the same challenges other jurisdictions are facing.

 

We are a large county with great demands, and we need to continue to grow our commercial tax base to ensure that our

 homeowners do not continue to bear the burden.  I urge you to remain engaged as we continue to discuss the set of choices of what we fund, what we do not fund and how we pay for it.  We may not always agree in the end, but a robust discussion is critical for our County to thrive.

 

As for SB 848 (the state legislation that enables a tax increase for education), like you, I was stunned by the broad language of the bill-it was the first thing I researched the day the budget was presented.  But, the Attorney General's opinion is clear: state law has precedence.  I support efforts to clarify the intent of the law and limit its focus to addressing the County's direct obligation to Maintenance of Effort and not base tax changes on an approved budget by the school system.  I will send a letter to the Prince George's County Delegation encouraging them to revisit it in the upcoming General Assembly session.

 

As the Washington Post reported on May 22nd, the County Council and PGCPS are moving forward on a long-requested performance audit.  We expect those results in January 2016.  Additionally, after seven superintendents in 14 years, I believe we have the best possible leader in Dr. Maxwell. Less than two years ago he left Anne Arundel County to return home to Prince George's County to take on some very difficult challenges. Dr. Maxwell has publicly stated that he is committed to staying with PGCPS for another six years.  This commitment, coupled with the performance audit, convince me that now is the time.  I do not doubt the audit will uncover some ways funds can be utilized better and those savings should go directly to further investment in the strategic plan. 


 
This year, without any tax increase, the County would have fallen short of meeting the state required Maintenance of Effort (MOE), which also now includes PGCPS teacher pension costs shifted from the state to the County. This year alone roughly $30 million of MOE is dedicated to teacher pensions and next year it will grow to more than $40 million. Moreover, as shown recently by Governor Hogan, we cannot continue to rely on the state to support our education.  Even with this new financial commitment, the County is still only providing less than 40% of the school system's total budget.


 

In addition to the budget, the County Council passed two pieces of legislation today. The first creates a Blue Ribbon Commission to study and recommend changes to address the County's long-term structural deficit.  This commission will report to the County Council and County Executive in six months, around the same time that we will receive the results of the PGCPS performance audit.

 

The second resolution mandates that gaming revenue from MGM National Harbor will support education.  We have reserved 50% (up to $25 million annually) of MGM National Harbor gaming/tax revenue and other revenue such as property taxes and amusement taxes for education including K-12 education, Prince George's Community College and Prince George's County Memorial Library System, beginning in FY17. 

 

 

Many residents have told me that our schools can't be expected to solve all the problems in our community and they are right.  There are many ways for you to engage further-get involved with your local school, join a non-profit organization that is doing good work in our community, or find a mentor-ship opportunity.  If you need help finding a way to assist, please let me know and I can direct you.  This county needs all of us to draw on our talents and expertise to achieve a strong, safe and vibrant Prince George's County.

 

Together Strengthening Our Community,


 

 

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If you have received this e-news from someone other than my office, and are interested in receiving this update directly, please email Thomas Mayah at the District 3 Council Office at [email protected] or call (301) 952-3060.