Prince George’s Co. $126M in the red

Prince George\'s County Executive Rushern Baker (seated center) at a public hearing Thursday night about the county\'s FY 2013 budget deficit. The hearing, the first of three around the county, was held at Laurel High School. (WTOP/Michelle Basch)

Michelle Basch,

WASHINGTON – Prince George’s County estimates it will be about $126 million in the red in the coming fiscal year. The county will hold a series of public hearings over the next three weeks to find out which programs should be kept and which should be cut.

The deficit has “a lot of that has to do with the fact that there’s a decrease in our residential property values,” says County Executive Rushern Baker.

At the same time, he says the county’s costs have gone up.

“We’re going to have to make some tough choices.”

Baker says input is needed from residents.

“What programs I’m sure people want to keep, and make sure are not cut. But if you have any suggestions on where we should make some cuts, we’re willing to listen to that also,” says Baker.

Baker says he wants to maintain funding for public safety and education.

“The District of Columbia, Fairfax County and Montgomery County are giving teacher raises in these economic times. So if we want to be competitive in Prince George’s County, we’ve got to make sure that we fund our education system.”

At the first hearing Thursday night at Laurel High School, Baker and a dozen county department heads showed up to listen to residents’ concerns.

Just two residents chose to speak, both in defense of libraries.

“I understand that if the library budget is cut, there’s only two choices. One of them is cutting personnel,” says Marsha Voigt, with the Friends of the Greenbelt Library.

“The other choice, don’t open the South Bowie branch this summer. Leaving a library finished but unopened is just unfathomable to me, and I think South Bowie is going to be pretty upset about it.”

Baker hopes to hear from more residents at two remaining hearings. The next one will be Wednesday, Feb. 1, at Harmony Hall, 10701 Livingston Road in Fort Washington. The final hearing is on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m at the Prince George’s County Community College’s Rennie Forum, 301 Largo Road in Largo.

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