Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker’s highly touted economic development fund inched closer to reality after it received a pivotal vote by the county council Tuesday.
The Economic Incentive Development Fund would provide grants and loans to public and private sector businesses to spur economic development, job and business growth around developed areas of the county and near transit lines. The fund would be released by the county in $7 million increments over the next few years, according to Brad Frome, deputy chief of staff for Baker.
Tuesday's vote allowed legislation for the fund to be introduced to the council for a final vote next month. Funding would be allocated from the county's general budget as early as the current fiscal year.
While running for office, Baker campaigned on expanding the county’s commercial tax base as a way to increase revenues and bring higher-paying jobs to the county.
But earlier this year, Baker sparred with the county council over the $50 million fund amid concerns from Council Chair Ingrid Turner, who complained that the fund lacked oversight from the council.
But during Tuesday's council meeting, the Baker administration and the council found common ground. Legislation introduced Tuesday included amendments that would require council approval for any release of funds over $250,000. Previous drafts only required council approval for releasing $1 million or more.
The legislation also calls for a financial advisory committee composed of financial service professionals to aid in the review of applicants.
“The issue was what level of oversight would the county council have,” said Turner. “[The current draft] includes more checks and balances.”
Turner said that if the fund is approved in November, money could begin being released by Christmas of this year. There will be an application process for businesses, she said, and a seven-day decision process from the council.
Frome said Baker is hopeful that the fund will be a catalyst for commercial development in the county, which has been lagging regionally compared to other jurisdictions.
“We wanted seed money,” he said. “It was a push-pull with the council and oversight and us.”
The fund must still clear final approval. A public hearing is scheduled Nov. 1 at 1:30 p.m. in the county administration building in Upper Marlboro.