Las vegas at night
UPPER MARLBORO – With budget decisions looming for the Prince George’s County Council, some citizens are weary of officials’ decisions to travel to Las Vegas for a convention this week instead of continuing to work on the budget.
The council did not hold a weekly meeting on Tuesday with three of its members attending the International Council of Shopping Centers event in Las Vegas in order to sell the county to business owners and increase the commercial tax base.
“We’re going out there to meet with potential retailers to try to get them to come to Prince George’s County,” Council Chairman Mel Franklin said. “That’s really what this conference is about. It is about business and government and other leaders getting together to market their jurisdictions and for retailers to market their businesses to these jurisdictions.”
Franklin, along with Council Vice Chairman Derrick Leon Davis, Councilmember Karen Toles and County Executive Rushern Baker III traveled along with other county staff to “sell the county,” Franklin said. Maryland Governor Larry Hogan also attended the event, according to his public schedule and an attendee list for the event.
The county must make a decision on Baker’s proposed budget by May 28, which includes multiple tax hikes and a $133 million county contribution to the Prince George’s County Public Schools system. Baker has proposed raising the real property tax rate by 15 percent—above the charter limit. He also proposed raising the county’s personal property tax rate from $2.40 to $2.78 per $100 of assessed value. Telecommunication taxes will be raised from 8 percent to 12 percent on top of those increases.
But the goal for this three-day conference is to sell Prince George’s County to the business owners in attendance. A total of 23 members are attending from Prince George’s County.
“We’re here to make an effort to prove the point that Prince George’s County being a bedroom community is over,” Franklin said. “The time of us being an economic definition is at hand.”
Bruce Branch, a community activist and a representative of the Prince George’s County and Business Contractor association, said the means to increase the commercial tax base exist at home in Prince George’s County, but officials have to be willing to work within the community.
“I think we have some problems at home that need immediate attention,” Branch said. “We do need commercial development, but I’m always a proponent of developing homegrown businesses. There are many opportunities to do that in this county.”
For some reason, Branch said, homegrown businesses are being shut out and neglected by county officials. Instead of traveling to Las Vegas, he said the county government should hold a similar conference of its own in Prince George’s County..
“It would be a great thing to hold a summit like that here,” Branch said. “We have a lot of talented contractors here. But we always hear the same old song that they lack capacity.”
The ICSC meeting is essential to county business, Davis said, who serves as a Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation board member. The conference, he said, presents the county with the potential of increasing the amount of commercial real estate development.
The county has had success in the past, Davis said, in bringing commercial development into Prince George’s County because of conferences like the ICSC conference.
“We have experienced great success with bringing important new retail prospects home to Prince George’s County – Whole Foods, Rose’s Discount Stores, Dave and Busters, to name a few of the businesses that have chosen Prince George’s as a result,” Davis said. “Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to collaborate with our regional partners on an approach to economic development that fits the needs of Prince George’s County.”
The county council has a tough job to do with the budget according to Judy Robinson, a community activist and a former secretary for the county’s planning department. She understands that they may need a bit of time to “decompress” and get away from the budget, but she would prefer if they were at home in the county.
“I don’t normally feel sorry for politicians, but I have even felt sorry for the county council. And that’s saying quite a lot. They are being raked over the coals with this budget,” Robinson said. “My message would be to stay here. I’m sure there are other meetings you can go to. There are other businesses you can contact.”
Robinson said she has concerns with the tax rates proposed in the budget, because it could hurt local and prospective businesses. Employers are not going to want to move their employees into a place where they are going to have to pay more taxes, Robinson said, and will have a difficult time convincing employees to work in the county.
“If it takes the county executive and county council to sell Prince George’s County then you already know we’re in trouble,” Robinson said. “Are they going to sell our new business tax or our new property tax?”
Prince George’s County Council
County Executive Rushern Baker III is currently in Las Vegas