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With some 'sleight of hand,' Pr. George's Council approves budget

The Prince George's County Council approved a $2.6 billion county operating budget Thursday for the next fiscal year that meets the state's requirement on education funding and eliminates a controversial employee furlough plan that has been in effect for the past two years.

The council's budget was mostly similar to the one proposed by County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D), which he updated after revising revenue figures and after the county delegation secured an additional $18 million in state funding for Prince George's during the last Maryland General Assembly session.

Johnson had originally proposed a third straight year of employee furloughs -- a cost-saving measure that has drawn protests and legal battles -- but later announced that they would not be necessary after the additional money from the state's so-called "disparity grant" program was procured.

The council also increased the amount Johnson had proposed for the school system to meet the state's requirement for school funding known as "maintenance of effort." Council members said they also plan to pass a supplemental measure this year that will give the school system $6 million on top of the required amount.

Johnson had originally proposed funding the schools more than $10 million below the required amount. When asked at a Thursday news conference how the gap was closed, council member Samuel H. Dean (D-Mitchellville) fielded the question but shied away from specifics.

"The budget process is really almost a sleight of hand, moving pieces around. And so, therefore, you have to move certain pieces in order to get to where it needs to be. So we looked at agencies, we looked at programs, to make sure we did not affect those programs that were essential to provide services to the citizens, but to find money somewhere to fill the gap, and we were able to do that. ... The specificity we cannot give you right now."

The school system is poised to make deep cuts, having proposed a budget this year that called for the cutting of hundreds of jobs, lengthy furloughs, slashed bus service and expanded class sizes.

Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said the additional funds approved by the council would allow for fewer layoffs and reduced furlough days, but said specifics were being worked out. Hite said school officials are expecting to lay off "a couple hundred people."

The council also had to contend with how to make up for a projected $18 million loss in revenue for the Prince George's side of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission due to a recently passed tax measure. Council member Camille Exum (D-Seat Pleasant) said the commission -- the budget for which the council also approved Thursday -- would be delaying some projects and borrowing money to pay for others, using surplus dollars and employing other cost-cutting measures to close the gap. She did not name specific projects.

The council approved an increase of almost $8 million for public safety agencies above Johnson's proposal.

-- Jonathan Mummolo and Michael Birnbaum

By Jonathan Mummolo  |  May 27, 2010; 4:17 PM ET
Categories:  Jonathan Mummolo , Prince George's County  | Tags: prince george's approves budget, prince george's budget approved, prince george's county budget  
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