Life jacket for recreation and parks Task force: Finally recognition that a city department is dwindling to nothing.

November 18, 1996

THE APPOINTMENT OF a task force to assess the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks and find ways to bring it more revenue is overdue acknowledgment of that agency's dire straits. Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke admits that city officials drafting the last two budgets realized the department would "dwindle to a level of mediocrity" unless steps were taken to prevent it.

But the department continued to take budget hits, including a $1 million cut this year. Not only is the survival of neighborhood recreation centers threatened, but also maintenance of some of the best urban parks in the nation.

Private management of the five municipal golf courses suggests ways can be found to make some of the city's other recreation facilities profitable. The Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. in 1985 entered into a 15-year contract to run the city's courses. It gives about half its annual profits, $225,000 last year, to an activities fund for city youth. Mr. Schmoke says one idea the task force will consider is whether to turn some park land into golf driving ranges.

There is also a possibility that the task force will recommend selling some park land, but Mr. Schmoke says he doesn't want to speculate about that for fear of spreading rumors. He also said he wouldn't preclude the possibility of new leadership within the department, although the immediate job is to determine the direction the city wants to go before discussing who should take it there. Marlyn J. Perritt has been director of recreation and parks since 1991.

The main thing, though, is creation of the task force itself, which was given carte blanche to look into all aspects of the department's operation. Its chairman is Sally Michel, who has already ably demonstrated her commitment to this issue as chair of the Parks and People Foundation. Co-chair is Lloyd Mitchner, president of the Board of Recreation and Parks.

The 12-member task force hasn't set a timetable for its work, although the mayor wants a report before budget development in the spring. To do its job well, the task force should take a two-pronged approach, looking at what must immediately be done to save the department while developing long-range recommendations for the city's recreational facilities and park land. It is an important undertaking affecting this city's quality of life.

Pub Date: 11/18/96

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