Money-raising proposal may expire Recreation measure needs vote by Feb. 18

February 04, 1997|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

The County Council continued tinkering last night with County Executive John G. Gary's bill to create a money-raising agency for golf courses, swimming pools and other public amenities, pushing it to the brink of expiration.

Council members voted to prohibit board members of the proposed Recreation Revenue Authority from having a financial stake in any of the agency's projects. The ban would extend to the authority's staff and family members.

Also, council members killed an amendment that would have required it to review the authority's projects as part of the Anne Arundel capital budget, which the administration has said would defeat the purpose of creating an independent agency.

As a result, critics have called the proposed semi-private agency a sort of "shadow" government, although the authority would be subject to state and county open-meetings and open-records laws.

The council must vote on the bill, introduced in November, at its Feb. 18 meeting or it will expire. By law, legislation dies if the council does not approve it within 95 days.

The administration has cast the bill as a significant initiative, but golf course owners and several county chambers of commerce have bitterly opposed it. Gary, a Republican, has long endorsed privatizing certain public programs but has not done so since he took office in 1994.

"Putting government in competition with business is wrong," said Charles S. Birney, an owner of South River Golf Links. "The new golf course growth that will result from this bill will hurt the private sector."

The legislation would create a nine-member board with the power to issue bonds, raise money from the private sector and operate almost entirely outside the county government bureaucracy. Members would be appointed by Gary, confirmed by the council and be paid $5,000 a year.

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

Under the legislation, the 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 general fund without council approval.

The council amended the original bill to allow the authority to build two new county-run courses. Gary wanted the board to build as many as three.

Eisenhower Golf Course, Anne Arundel's only county-run links, could benefit immediately. The authority would essentially take it over, operating somewhat like the nonprofit corporation that runs Baltimore's five public courses.

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. Greens fees are now siphoned off to pay for other county services.

"The private courses deserve to make every dime they can," said Edward Kennedy, a retired Westinghouse human resources manager and avid golfer. "But we need affordable golf."

Pub Date: 2/04/97

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