New board weighed for city projects

March 27, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,Sun Staff Writer

A group of people free from both political and public pressure could determine spending on large construction projects in Annapolis under a plan supported by several city aldermen.

The city council is considering a charter amendment to create an independent revenue authority to oversee multimillion-dollar developments. The council will hold a public hearing on the matter today at 7 p.m.

"From a financial standpoint, this is a new direction for the city of Annapolis," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden of the 5th Ward, chairman of the council Finance Committee and supporter of the charter change. "This could serve as a catalyst for major revitalization in the city."

Revenue authorities are small corporate boards that sell bonds and collect fees to finance high-priced projects, from stadiums to parking garages. An authority is governed by board members who are appointed by local government officials.

Some residents fiercely resist the revenue authority plan, saying it would serve as a back-door route for projects that never secured local government approval, such as a downtown conference center on West Street.

"I think the city is looking for someone else to put money in the conference center, and this most recent push for a revenue authority has everything to do with that," said Deborah Povich, a resident who has lobbied against proposals for a revenue authority.

The Annapolis conference center proposal died last year when supporters failed to get money from the Maryland legislature. In the past several weeks, independent studies have suggested the state might benefit from a conference center in Montgomery County rather than in Annapolis.

But Annapolis officials say the push for a revenue authority has nothing to do with a conference center and everything to do with efficiency.

The present procedure of going through the city council can be )) time-consuming because of hearings and political disputes, they say, whereas authorities can operate with the independence of a private business.

This is not the first time Annapolis has sought to establish an independent financing board. The General Assembly rejected the city's proposal for authority for such a board several years ago. In their latest attempt to achieve their goal, some aldermen are proposing a charter amendment, which does not require state approval.

The charter amendment, which needs city council approval, would give the council power to set up a revenue authority. The council also would have to establish the framework for the authority.

Because the amendment would not limit the revenue authority's power to any one type of project, some critics say that it would open the door for a body with sway over all types of projects in the city. Currently, only Baltimore and Montgomery counties have revenue authorities with such sweeping powers.

In Maryland, most revenue authorities, such as the Prince George's County Parking Authority, the Baltimore City Industrial Development Authority and the Maryland Health and Higher Education Authority, have a narrower scope.

"The potential for abuse is high," said Cynthia L. Eckard, a Homewood resident and an opponent of a conference center and a revenue authority. "This is a tool aldermen can use to get projects they might not ordinarily get, such as parking garages and conference centers."

City officials argue that the council is simply trying to give itself the option of forming a revenue authority by drafting a charter amendment. The council has not yet determined what projects such a panel would oversee or how much power it would have, Ward 8 Alderman Ellen O. Moyer said.

"I cannot imagine how citizens are not going to be involved in determining what projects this authority would oversee," Ms. Moyer said. "The parameters of what a revenue authority could and could not do would go through a very public process."

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