A lengthy hearing with close to two dozen speakers delayed a County Council vote last night on a bill to create Anne Arundel's first private agency to raise money for recreational projects.
The proposal had been the subject of intensive lobbying, and passage of a bill in the Maryland General Assembly last night allowing the county to create a revenue authority to control money raised for recreation programs.
But after more than two hours of council members' questioning county officials about the proposal, and testimony from opponents, it appeared possible that the members would introduce several amendments on the bill to create the Recreational Revenue Authority -- which would require a new public hearing and put off a vote.
The council vigorously questioned administration officials about how the authority would be held accountable for its actions and questioned the qualification requirements of its members, who would be appointed by County Executive John G. Gary.
Council members were also concerned about the possibility that government might take business away from the private sector if such a bill passed. Representatives of local golf courses, health clubs and business associations expressed the same worries.
"If this bill did not compete with the private sector, I wouldn't be here today," said Charlie Birney, owner of South River Golf Links on Route 2. "Let's say you had a shoe store and the county decided to open a shoe store that didn't have to pay taxes. It's remotely inappropriate for the county to compete against me, a private citizen trying to do business."
Essentially, the bill allows the county to establish a nine-member board with the power to issue bonds, raise money from the private sector and operate almost entirely outside the county government.
Although initially designed to pay for renovations at scruffy Eisenhower Golf Course in Crownsville, 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 the northern part of the county.
Gary, a Republican, has discussed both ideas for years but has found little extra money to carry them out.
The 13-page bill links two of Gary's central political tenets: providing 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 fight has focused mostly on proposed golf courses, but county officials have maintained that the golf course is a small part of the bill and that the authority would have power to establish other recreational facilities -- a point that concerns Dale Snyder, chairwoman of the Greater Severna Park Chamber of Commerce.
"If it's passed, it'll be the most liberal revenue authority in this state," Snyder said. "It basically creates a shadow government that would be given extremely broad, unrestricted powers. For example, the term recreational facilities is not defined, meaning this authority could build anything from ball fields to health clubs.
"The county needs to clearly define what they are asking for here, and there needs to be some public accountability."
Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, a 5th District Republican, addressed issues such as whether authority members would be included in the county pension plan and whether a nine-member board was too large. She also requested that the authority be held accountable to the public by assuring that meetings would be open to the public.
The authority, which would raise money for and operate recreation projects in partnership with private business, would not cost the county money, according to administration analyses.
Each authority board member would receive $5,000 a year. Under the legislation, the revenue authority would be required to contribute 20 percent of its net income to the general fund.
Pub Date: 1/07/97