Bill proposed for nonprofit parks agency Delegation to hear measure establishing privatized approach

Part of regional trend

Fees would benefit recreation programs, not the general fund

March 06, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County soon may create a private nonprofit corporation to run certain recreation programs, a move county officials say would allow greater investment in public amenities such as golf courses and swimming pools.

The county's General Assembly delegation will hear legislation Friday that would allow Anne Arundel to establish a nonprofit agency with the power to charge fees and issue bonds for recreation investment. The corporation would be run by an appointed board of directors and pay a portion of its annual income to the county Recreation and Parks Department.

Most immediately, the bill would allow the county essentially to privatize Eisenhower Golf Course, which County Executive John G. Gary has advocated since winning office two years ago.

Eisenhower is the only public course in the county. Mr. Gary has proposed a second course along Fort Smallwood Road.

"The whole genesis is going to be to promote golf in the county," Mr. Gary said. "But we're not going to limit ourselves."

The measure, which is expected to receive the delegation's endorsement, is part of a regional trend in local government. To relieve budgetary strain, counties increasingly have been asking residents to pay for services they use.

The bill would protect user fee revenues derived from recreation programs for reinvestment in those programs. Now, surplus revenues are siphoned off to pay for other county services.

For example, Eisenhower Golf Course had a $100,000 surplus last year from green fees costing $18 to $21. But the profits were placed in the county's general fund, leaving the course along Generals Highway with shabby greens, overgrown trees and patchy fairways.

Under the proposed legislation, the corporation would be allowed to reinvest that money in Eisenhower, which needs an estimated $150,000 worth of grounds work.

In addition, the agency would have the power to issue bonds to raise money for the proposed Fort Smallwood Road course, which could cost as much as $8 million.

"Golfers are going to start seeing the money they are paying going directly into golf and not for something else," said M. Joseph Cannon, director of the county's Recreation and Parks Department.

Nonprofit corporations supervising recreation programs have proved financially successful in other jurisdictions.

In Baltimore, a private agency has run the city's five public courses since 1985. Since then, the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. has spent $4.5 million improving the courses, turning an annual operating losses into a surpluses.

A revenue authority began running Baltimore County's three public courses last August. The agency soon will issue $13.5 million in bonds to pay for two new courses expected to open in 1997.

"Financing golf courses is fairly difficult," said George E. Hale, executive director of Baltimore County's Revenue Authority. "The fact we have three courses generating revenue stabilizes us and allows us to pay off the debt until the two new ones become profitable."

Del. Michael E. Busch, an Annapolis Democrat, is sponsoring the House bill on Mr. Gary's behalf. He said he expects the delegation to endorse the legislation in the coming weeks, which virtually assures its passage in the General Assembly.

Pub Date: 3/06/96

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