Regionalism: an easy idea but difficult to implement


May 08, 1994|By David Conn

"We talk about it at cocktail parties, but we do not do anything to challenge anyone to do something," observed Donald P. Hutchinson, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee.

What Mr. Hutchinson was talking about at the GBC's annual dinner last week was regionalism, the idea that the economic future of Baltimore and its five surrounding counties depends on the extent to which they can plan and implement public policy together.

One positive sign came last fall, when Baltimore and the counties, along with the GBC, joined to form the Greater Baltimore Development Alliance, a $250,000 effort to market the region to businesses. But is the concept working or are people just talking about it?

Bernard Manekin

Chairman, Manekin Corp.

I think that up until now the county executives have given lip service to the thought of regionalism, and have underscored the absolute essentiality that the independent jurisdictions cooperate with each other for the common good. But I don't think anything's been done past the lip service.

There's a great deal of competition among the counties. It's very hard, it seems to me, to get mutual cooperation.

I think it's essential because we rely on each other. Counties cannot survive as well individually as they can in cooperation with others. There's additional strength that comes from mutual cooperation in areas of essentiality.

You find most of the region's major cultural activities are in the city, be they the art museums, the theaters, concerts, the symphony and the like. And yet the counties don't really give the kind of financial support to those institutions as they should. All their people take advantage of them, of course.

I think the counties are very self-indulgent. They want to protect their own turf, and they like the idea that their tax rate is about 50 percent of what the city's is. I don't think it's likely there's going to be any change.

Charles C. Krautler

Executive Director,

Baltimore Metropolitan Council

I think regionalism is really taking hold in this area since the HTC Baltimore Metropolitan Council was created in July 1992. The mayor and the county executives of Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Baltimore County, Harford County, and the commissioner of Carroll County are meeting together six or seven times a year to not only develop a regional agenda, but also to direct the progress of the staff's efforts here at the BMC.

We just completed a long-range transportation plan for the region that directs a $3.7 billion development program between now and the year 2020. We have a solid waste management work group that is made up of the public works directors of each of the jurisdictions, and they will be developing a regional solid waste plan by the end of this calendar year.

We already have one regional facility that is under development -- a yard waste composting facility in Howard County that will serve Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties and Baltimore city.

We have continued a water quality program, a reservoir protection program that all six jurisdictions cooperate in to improve water quality. . . . We're doing air quality planning in the Baltimore region.

The key to this program is the personal commitment of the elected officials in the region. Our biggest concern, I think, is educating the citizenry and making them understand that regionalism is important.

Marion Pines

Senior Fellow,

The Johns Hopkins Institute

of Policy Studies

It's like motherhood. We're all in favor of it, but what gets much harder is figuring out how to make it happen. It's fraught with issues of political power, and racial considerations. Baltimore doesn't have the power to annex, like many Midwestern counties do. Baltimore is really encircled by other political subdivisions, so that their tax base has been eroding, and that's really at the heart of their fiscal problems.

Would it make sense to have a metropolitan police force? A metropolitan sanitation service or school system? You might say, "Great, wonderful." But what are going to be the objections? Is the county going to be happy with one school district? Then you're going to get into ingrained racial attitudes that aren't very positive, and that don't welcome diversity.

Maybe we should look at things that aren't that threatening to people. A regional library system, a solid waste disposal system, dealing with landfills on a regional basis.

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