Balto. Co. sets agenda for delegation Ruppersberger given credit for forging bloc from diverse group

'It's back to the future'

School construction tops list for '96 session of General Assembly

January 08, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

When Dundalk Del. John S. Arnick came to the Maryland General Assembly in 1967, Baltimore County's Democratic organization-dominated delegation worked as a bloc of political power.

"We had 22 solid votes in the county," Mr. Arnick recalled of his old House of Delegates contingent after County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III's meeting with the 1996 county General Assembly delegation Friday in the Towson branch library.

Now, say he and other Democratic and Republican legislators, Mr. Ruppersberger is moving a much more diverse group back in that direction -- to the county's benefit.

"Dutch has done the impossible," said state Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, an Owings Mills Democrat, noting that the county delegation never worked as a team during her 17 years in Annapolis until Mr. Ruppersberger came into office last year.

"This is getting it all back together again," Mr. Arnick said. "It's back to the future."

Even Republicans like Alfred W. Redmer Jr., and James F. Ports Jr., both from Perry Hall's 8th District, agreed. "All in all, he's done pretty good," Mr. Ports said.

The major goal, Mr. Ruppersberger explained, is to get a bigger share of the state money pie for a county struggling -- despite flat tax revenues -- to build more schools, buy new parkland, hire more police officers and attract businesses.

"All we're asking for is our fair share," the executive said.

School construction is the top priority, with a goal of $15 million per year in state funds through 1998. Mr. Ruppersberger gave legislators a list of the county's priority school projects and asked them to support the list -- in order of priority.

That tactic, together with mass appearances at the state Board of Public Works meeting on school construction, could pry the whole $15 million or more loose, he said. The state has promised the county only $6.7 million, Mr. Ruppersberger said, so there is plenty of work to do.

But the sense of unity was quickly strained as veteran Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, a Fullerton Democrat, complained loudly that plans for a $7.8 million addition to Perry Hall High School in his district do not include cafeteria improvements. "Don't count on $15 million without Perry Hall," the influential chairman of the Senate Finance Committee warned.

Acting county school Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione, who also spoke at the meeting, said later that he just became aware of the problems with Perry Hall High's renovation and there is time to change the plan designed to bring 500 students into a new building addition. Those students are now using portable classrooms.

After money for school construction, Mr. Ruppersberger's legislative package features:

* A request for $3 million in state funds to pay for two teacher-mentors at 26 county schools that have more than 50 percent African-American students and high numbers of inexperienced teachers.

* A bill to exempt county police officers who act in good faith from personal liability in suits against the county.

* A $50 fee assessed to anyone in the county convicted or given probation before judgment on drunken driving charges. The fee -- which officials say would produce about $120,000 in a typical year -- would be used to defray the cost of treatment at the county's 100-bed driving-while-intoxicated treatment center in Owings Mills, which has remained only about 70 percent full.

* A package of education accountability laws that would give the county power to order performance audits of schools, require closer scrutiny of education spending and eliminate third-party funds, such as the much-disputed $10.7 million in school system money discovered in a Blue Cross-Blue Shield account by the Ruppersberger administration last year.

These items, plus a move to change the Maryland "maintenance-of-effort" law requiring counties to spend at least as much on education as in the previous year or lose state funds, might be considered statewide, Mr. Ruppersberger said.

* Three requests for state bond money totaling $5 million that would be matched with local funds. Most of the money -- $4 million -- would pay for projects helping the economic and social redevelopment of the county's ailing southeastern quadrant. The rest would pay for a streetscape project on Frederick Road in Catonsville.

* Another $1.6 million in state funds to help buy two large park sites in Owings Mills. One 95-acre site on Lyons Mill Road would become recreational fields, while the other, a 112-acre site off Deer Park Road, would be added to the adjacent Soldier's

Delight Natural Environmental Area.

* Give the County Council the power to approve or reject the executive's nominees to the county's independent revenue authority board of directors.

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