Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III is delaying, for financial reasons, the opening of a Fort Washington-area police station that has been in the works for more than a decade.
Construction of the District VII station is nearly complete, and a commander for the station, which would cover the southern region of the county, has been selected.
But officials said that because of constraints in the budget passed by the County Council this spring, no officers will be available to staff the station this fiscal year.
The decision has angered residents who advocated for the project and has prompted sharp criticism from County Council members, who accused Baker (D) of taking unilateral action.
County Council Chairman Mel Franklin said delaying the opening of the station is “disrespectful” to those communities that had lobbied for it for 15 years and were eager to see it open in September.
Aides to Baker placed the blame on county lawmakers and on cuts they made to the budget proposed by Baker.
“It’s funny, because it’s like they are blaming the weather man,” said Baker’s budget chief, Thomas Himler. “We told the [council] it was going to rain, and now it’s raining.”
Baker’s budget included a double-digit tax increase to generate money for public schools, and layoffs and furloughs for county workers to offset a separate shortfall in operating revenue. The council rejected his spending plan, opting for a smaller tax increase and doing away with the layoffs and furloughs. It also proposed setting aside 2 percent of every agency’s budget for contingency funds.
Baker vetoed that budget, warning that the council’s proposal would, among other things, defer the opening of the police station and trigger the cancellation of police recruiting classes. But the council overrode Baker’s veto.
“We were very clear,” Himler said. “They chose to ignore that, and we moved forward. What did they think they were voting on?”
Aides say Baker had not yet publicized the decision not to open the station, which was first reported by WRC-TV (Channel 4), because he has not finalized the spending cuts he is making to comply with the budget passed by the council.
Prince George’s Police Chief Mark Magaw said in a statement that, though the department is eager to open the station, “cuts are preventing us from hiring new officers at a rate faster than current officers will retire.”
For now, officers from Oxon Hill and Clinton will continue to work in the southern region, which includes Fort Washington, Brandywine and Accokeek.
“From a citizen’s point of view, it seems kind of ridiculous,” said 40-year county resident Larry Carbaugh, pointing out that construction of the station is already paid for. “To say it is going to be there but we’re not going to staff it is childish. . . . It sounds like little kids playing games.”
Legislators say they may consider using contingency funds to save the station.
“Our partnership has fallen apart,” said council member Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington). Baker “has to understand this is not a county that operates under one branch. It’s all of us.”