Gary proposes private authority to finance recreation facilities Revenue authority would help upgrade Eisenhower links

November 20, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

County Executive John G. Gary has introduced legislation that would create Anne Arundel's first private agency to raise money for recreational projects that the county has been unable to afford with taxpayer money.

The bill to form the Recreational Revenue Authority, presented to the County Council on Monday night, culminates months of state-level lobbying and intensive planning. It would establish a nine-member board with the power to issue bonds, raise money from the private sector and operate almost entirely outside county government bureaucracy.

While initially designed to pay for renovations at scruffy Eisenhower Golf Course, the revenue authority would also look to raise money for a second county-run course on Fort Smallwood Road and for a public swimming pool in North County. Gary, a Republican, has discussed both ideas for years but has found little extra money to carry them out.

"The days of the 1980s are gone, and there's no indication they are waiting around the corner," said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman. "We can't afford to build new golf courses and ice rinks. If the private sector is willing to pay for facilities that can be self-sustaining financially, then we can devote more money to others that aren't. Ball fields in particular."

The 13-page bill links two of Gary's central political beliefs: to provide nuts-and-bolts municipal services such as softball diamonds and soccer fields, while thinning government by handing over some operations to the private sector. The council will hold a public hearing on the measure next month.

Competition a concern

But some local golf course owners oppose the legislation. Anne Arundel has three courses open to the public and six private courses.

"Government should not be in the golfing business against other businesses," said Russ Rose, whose family owns Bay Hills Golf Club in Arnold. "At one time, the private sector couldn't build golf courses, but lately the whole area has had quite a bit of golf course development, through private and public enterprise."

He added: "I'm very concerned about being overbuilt. It's going to be pretty hard for all of us to exist."

The General Assembly passed a bill this year allowing Anne Arundel to create a revenue authority to protect money raised by recreation programs for reinvestment in those same programs. Greens fees, for example, can now be siphoned off to pay for other county services.

Eisenhower Golf Course, Anne Arundel's only county-run links, could benefit immediately. The authority would essentially take over its operation. With patchy greens, the course on Generals Highway needs about $150,000 worth of repairs. The authority would be able to use greens fees, which last year created a $100,000 surplus at the course, for the renovation.

The administration has endorsed privatizing certain public programs, but has failed to actually do so since Gary took office in 1994. Gary decided this year against having a private company run Anne Arundel's new $29.7 million Glen Burnie jail when it opens next year.

A major initiative

As a result, Gary considers the revenue authority a major policy initiative. In June, he named former Gov. William Donald Schaefer to lead a 22-member steering committee to write the legislation.

Anne Arundel's revenue authority, which would raise money for and operate future recreation projects in partnership with private business, would operate somewhat like the nonprofit corporation that runs Baltimore's five public courses. Since 1985, the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. has spent $4.5 million improving the courses, turning annual operating losses into surpluses.

The administration's financial analysis states that the legislation would not cost the county money. Board members, who would be appointed by the county executive, would receive $5,000 a year.

Under the legislation, the revenue authority would be required to contribute 20 percent of its net income to Anne Arundel's general fund. The authority could not borrow more than $25,000 from the county's general fund without council approval.

"The county has been in the recreation facilities business since it's been a county," Ritter said. "Once taxpayers see they have the basics covered -- public safety, health, education -- then they want recreation services at a price they can afford."

Pub Date: 11/20/96

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