Councilman David G. Boschert is resurrecting a long-standing debate on whether state Program Open Space money should be used to help build ball fields, golf courses and ice rinks for Anne Arundel citizens.
County and state parks and recreation officials say yes. Boschert, D-Crownsville, says no.
Though state law allows counties to spend half of their POS money on development projects, Boschert believes the funds should be used only to buy open land. Therefore, he is drafting a bill that would place additional restrictions on the state law, prohibiting the county from using POS money for ball fields and other recreational projects.
"We should not play games with the money. The money's for environmental acquisition, and that's how I want to use it," said Boschert, who plans to introduce his bill after Jan. 1.
Joseph McCann, county director of parks and recreation, disagrees strongly, saying government has a responsibility to build recreation facilities as well as preserve open land. He said he will encourage County Executive-elect Robert R. Neall to oppose any bill restricting the use of POS money to land acquisition.
Environmentalists and parks and recreation officials have been arguing for years about whether POS funds, which come from real estate transfer taxes, should be used to preserve open land or to develop parks and recreational facilities. In Anne Arundel, the issue resurfaced last month, when the County Council approved the use of $800,000 in POS money toward purchasing land for a large West County ice rink.
Though the 42,000-square-foot rink will be open to the public, it is being built as a practice facility for the National Hockey League's Washington Capitals.
At a public hearing last month, environmentalists argued that POS money was never intended for development. But Offut Johnson, who has worked with Program Open Space at the state level since its inception 20 years ago, said yesterday that the program always was intended to meet both open space and development needs.
"Development was right in the program from the get-go," Johnson said.
Several council members expressed reservations about paying for the ice rink site with POS money. But they voted in favor of the project after the KMS Group Inc., which is building the ice rink and leasing the land from the county, made a last-minute offer to give the county an additional 30 acres along the Patuxent River.
Though the extra 30 acres made the ice rink deal more palatable to environmentalists, some environmental leaders have questioned just how valuable those 30 acres are.
Also, they are disturbed by the way the county administration pushed the ice rink project through the council, saying McCann worked the details out with KMS without consulting the council.
"It was prearranged by the administration," said Michael Hoffman, chairman of the local Sierra Club's conservation committee. "The council was presented with a done deal."
Members of the Severn River Commission, a government-appointed advisory board, questioned whether the county can legally spend such large sums of money on development projects without buying more open land. Commission member Lina Vlavianos said the group has been asking the county to buy land around the Jabez Branch, a rare and endangered trout stream, for years, but has always been told there was not enough money.
"To us, (using $800,000 for the ice rink) is like a slap in the face," Vlavianos said.
McCann bristles at suggestions that his department has misused POS money or failed to acquire enough open land. Since 1982, he said, the county has bought 4,000 acres, 1,500 of which are completely undeveloped. And much of the so-called developed property, such as Quiet Waters Park on the Annapolis Neck Peninsula, remains untouched, he said.