People want parks Mecca for families with children can't keep up with recreation needs.

January 23, 1996

ALL THE SNOW that blanketed Maryland this month has been a fiscal nightmare for local governments that were already having to make some hard spending choices. Even before the latest snow storms, Howard County had spent two-thirds of its snow removal budget. The current situation should melt any hope that the county might squeeze funds out of some other source for other pressing needs, including public demands for more recreational facilities.

That's too bad. One of the attractions of life in Howard is the recreational opportunities provided for families. In helping draw more residents to the county, however, the parks have become inadequate to serve the demand for what they offer. That is particularly so when it comes to all the youth and adult athletic leagues that want to use the parks for their games. Existing sites that can't accommodate all the requests for playing time now won't be able to do better until more facilities are built.

But the Department of Recreation and Parks knows the score. This year, the parks department received $8.6 million in loans to fund new projects. Next year, it expects to receive less than $3 million and might not get any funds. For now, though, the plan is to spend about $2.5 million on new projects.

Last month, the parks board proposed delaying construction of eight parks and seven proposed sites for softball, baseball, soccer and football fields. Surprisingly, the park board voted last Wednesday to remove from the "delay list" a park for the Holiday Hills/Riverside community. After planning, construction is scheduled to begin in the 1998 fiscal year.

Residents in the neighborhood had complained because children have to ride their skateboards and play football and roller hockey in the streets. Although Holiday Hills may get its park, other Howard countians may find that they have to look to themselves if they want additional recreation facilities.

Already county residents are paying more in fees to use recreation facilities. Half the department's operating budget of $11 million will come from fees this year, compared to less than 25 percent in fiscal 1991. But to have enough ballparks and playgrounds, people should expect to pay even more. We suspect they will also think it is worth the extra expense.

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