Deletion of funds for horse center surprises parties Council shifts $400,000 planned for facility to help restore school money

May 21, 1998|By Del Quentin Wilber | Del Quentin Wilber,SUN STAFF

A proposed horse center in western Howard County was scratched from the county's capital budget this week, surprising supporters and opponents who have waged a decade-long battle over whether public funds should finance it.

But both sides are likely to enter the starting gates in this race again.

On Tuesday, the County Council, under fire to restore millions of dollars in school funding, shifted $400,000 that had been planned for the center to the school budget.

"It wasn't critical to the budget," said County Councilman Darrell Drown, a Republican. "It was an easy thing to bump, put off for one more year. It just didn't survive the priority food chain."

The center, which some officials still hope to build in the Long Corner area of western Howard, would include horse rings, stalls and a resident caretaker at a cost of about $600,000.

Opposition to the center has come mostly horse farm owners, a burgeoning segment of western Howard's farming community, who see it as subsidized competition.

But even some who support the center did not seem that upset by the delay.

"Giving everybody one more year to get their acts together wouldn't hurt anyone," said Shirley Geis, a leader in 4-H Club horse-related activities.

Geis has supported a smaller equestrian center for 25 years.

In deciding to move the funds, County Council members said they were concerned about the organization of private backers, who are expected to finance a hefty portion of the project.

After trying unsuccessfully for years to put the center on private farms scattered around the county, Howard officials focused recently on land owned by the state Department of Natural Resources near the Patuxent River.

Planners had hoped to lease about 20 acres at $1,200 a year from the department.

Late last year, county officials and supporters of the complex -- a group of residents including prolific developer Donald Reuwer and 4-H club organizers -- were considering a farm off Marriottsville Road and Route 99. But disagreement among supporters destroyed that deal.

In January, they approached the DNR about the farmland adjacent to the Patuxent River.

Those discussions are proceeding, but with the delay in the funding, no decisions are likely in the near future, said Gary J. Arthur, director of Department of Recreation and Parks.

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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