Regional council funds in trouble Schaefer reportedly weighs ending state's contribution.

November 22, 1991|By William Thompson and Kevin Thomas | William Thompson and Kevin Thomas,Evening Sun Staff

In a budget decision that could jeopardize an agency set up to help local lawmakers solve mutual problems, Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to slash funding for the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

According to State House sources, the governor may decide as early as today whether the state can afford to continue supporting the BRCOG, a state agency specifically designed to help officials in Baltimore and the five surrounding counties conduct research and initiate policies on regional issues.

Schaefer and his fiscal analysts reportedly are leaning toward chopping most of the state's share of the agency budget. This year, the state portion amounted to about $250,000, or roughly 8 percent of BRCOG funding.

The agency has a staff of more than 40 and a $10 million budget from federal, state and local contributions.

Lawmakers suggest that if the state withdraws funds, local jurisdictions might do likewise. Baltimore and the surrounding counties contributed $472,000 to the agency last year.

"If you stop it suddenly, it will die," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, D-City.

If Schaefer decides to withdraw funding, he is likely to cite as a major reason the state's existing and future budget woes. The state faces $175 million in additional cuts to the current budget and a revenue shortfall of about $700 million in the next fiscal year.

The governor also could point to reports that the agency is rife with internal squabbles and has its own money problems, sources said.

Schaefer's decision will follow a lengthy study of the organization contracted by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

A report unveiled before lawmakers in Annapolis this week recommended that the BRCOG be restructured to serve as a forum for political executives to discuss regional problems.

The report concluded in part that "BRCOG is not perceived as being an effective instrument for bringing about regional cooperation in the Baltimore metropolitan area. BRCOG is viewed as being too fragmented and diffuse in its leadership, legal status and organizational structure to be responsive to local government needs."

BRCOG, formerly called the Regional Planning Council, was established as an independent state agency in 1984, two decades after it was created as a clearinghouse for area officials to exchange data and ideas about managing government.

Despite the report's criticism, some area lawmakers said a revamped organization can be useful and still needs state support.

"If the state pulls out now, [BRCOG] will collapse as an institution," said Hoffman.

She said that if the state continues to fund the group, even at reduced levels, agency officials may have time to obtain other funding and keep BRCOG alive.

Baltimore Councilman Anthony Ambridge, D-2nd, who is acting chairman of BRCOG, said yesterday that it could live without being a state agency. But he warned: "You can't reduce funding overnight."

Ambridge said he and other BRCOG officials will propose that the agency be turned into a non-profit organization headed by a private sector business person.

He said the change would allow the agency to extricate itself fromcomplicated state procurement and hiring procedures.

He also acknowledged friction between elected officials at BRCOG and said a business person at the helm could help end the squabbling.

"I've never seen so much partisan stuff going on," Ambridge said. "As a result, we're at a standstill."

Several factors have left BRCOG adrift, sources said. The agency has been without a permanent chairman since last year, when BaltimoreCounty Executive Dennis Rasmussen was defeated in local elections.

Also, several current county executives have shown a lack of interest, and the state's current budget woes have accentuated infighting between BRCOG and the Maryland Office of Planning.

"We receive less than $400,000 in state funding; they receive $4 million," said Ambridge. "And I'd put our record of work against theirs any day."

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