HYATTSVILLE – The Mayor and City Council passed a $15.7 million general fund budget for the 2015 fiscal year Wednesday night, but two council members voted against it because of concerns about funding for police positions.
The budget is $1.9 million more than last year’s budget, a 13.8 percent increase.
To pay for the spending hike in the new budget, real property tax went up 5.9 percent and local tax went up 6.15 percent. The 2015 budget passed 8-2.
“I’d like to congratulate this council for having the strength to make changes to this budget process,” said Councilman Tim Hunt, who voted against the budget along with Councilwoman Paula Perry. “Could we call it a smooth process? No. Could we call it a thorough process? Absolutely.”
In addition to the operating budget, the council also passed a $4.5 million capital budget, which allocates $2 million to upgrade the public works facility.
The capital budget also provides $283,200 to the police department in 2015. Some of the funds will go toward vehicle replacement and one K-9 police dog.
Hunt said he believes improving the city’s public safety and security should have been the council’s priority.
"The county is taking initiative to address its continuing crime problem,” Hunt said. “It’s distressing that the city is not following suit."
The size of the city’s police force had been a point of contention for the council throughout the budget process. The first draft of the budget provided funding for 43 officer positions, but the adopted budget freezes the number of police officers. The 2014 adopted budget funded 40 officers in the budget. The city had 36 officers in May.
Hunt repeatedly told his colleagues throughout the budget process that recommendations the council got from the police chief were not being followed.
Douglas Holland, the city’s police chief, said the police force needs more officers to lighten the workload of the current officers.
“If we’re not fully staffed, people may be wearing two or three hats and it may affect those on patrol,” said Holland.
“You can’t wait for something to happen to start hiring officers because then it’s too late,” Perry said.
Michael Glassman, property manager of the Metropolitan Shops at Prince George’s Station, said he supports growing the police force because crime is still rampant.
In recent weeks, Glassman said, one of his customers was abducted getting into a car, he witnessed a mugging and he noticed people having sex in hallways.
“The situation is not getting better with even less police being able to come around,” said Glassman. “I own a center in Forestville, Maryland and I’ll be truthful, I feel safer in Forestville than I feel in my [Hyattsville] center.”
Henry Watford, manager of the Mall at Prince Georges, had similar complaints.
“The city is growing, business sector growing, the community is growing and the police department is remaining stagnant,” Watford said.