Parks Losing Money

State May Take Back $2 Million

June 25, 1991|By Robert Lee | Robert Lee,Staff writer

The legislature is expected to take $2 million from county parks projects as it struggles to balance the state budget at tomorrow's special legislative session in Annapolis.

The $2 million is part of $30.9 million in Program Open Space money from across the state that legislators plan to use to balance the estimated $109 million deficit. The POS fund, derived from a 0.5-percent tax on all real estate transfers, is supposed to go toward buying and developing parkland.

The anticipated loss will not affect any existing park projects, county capital projects administrator John Keene said yesterday. He said the department will scrape the money together somehow and apply for state money at a later date.

But if the recession continues, and the state dips into the POS pot again next year, the parks department would have to dig into the county tax rolls to pay for such ongoing projects as the Bates Middle School field renovations, Tick Neck Park, purchasing land at the headwaters of Cat Tail Creek and the greenways program.

"If they continue to see (POS) as their pot of gold and this happens another year, we're going to have to find some othersource of revenue, such as taxes or county bonds," Keene said.

Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad, D-Annapolis, the Senate's most vocal defender of POS, said he sees a good chance that some "language" may be included in the bill to refund to POS any leftover money -- if there is any-- from the general fund.

But Keene said Anne Arundel County probably wouldn't get any of the refunds, because the state has a backlogof completed projects that need money.

"Applications from other jurisdictions have been piling up over at DNR, and those projects would be ahead of us on the list," Keene said.

County delegation chairman Michael E. Busch, D-Annapolis, said, "There's quite a bit of momentum in the house" for a bill to protect POS next year.

The state had already tapped POS for $33 million during the regular session. Gov. William Donald Schaefer and Democratic leaders who wanted to avoidany cuts in services decided to go after it a second time over the vocal objections of Winegrad and environmental lobbyists.

Also usedto balance the state budget will be $27 million remaining in the state's emergency "rainy day fund"; $5.9 million from a state program that provides loans for low-income housing; $5 million from the state'sinsurance fund; and smaller amounts from such diverse sources as theWaterways Improvement Fund, the Ocean City beach-replenishment program and the Maryland Deposit Insurance Fund's recoveries of savings and loan assets.

Last month, the department of fiscal services reported that the recession was driving income and sales-tax receipts down, along with other sources of state revenue, so that the budget theoretically balanced in April is now expected to be $109 million in the red. Since the state constitution requires a balanced budget, a special session was called for Wednesday.

Leaders in Annapolis learned earlier this summer that the state has to add $34 million to its Department of Transportation budget or lose $312 million in federal matching funds for such projects as the Severn River Bridge, Route 32 and Interstate 97.

To solve that crisis, 50 different licensing and vehicle fees are expected to be raised Wednesday, including the ones for replacement tags and a learner's permit.

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