Arundel council members to propose slashing fund

Gary's use of money for land questioned

May 26, 1999|By Matthew Mosk | Matthew Mosk,SUN STAFF

County Council members will propose drastically cutting a discretionary fund that former County Executive John G. Gary tapped shortly before leaving office to make land purchases many are questioning.

Several council members said they support slashing the amount of money held in the advanced land acquisition account, one of the few sources of money the executive can use without their approval.

"The reason we want to cut it back is pretty straightforward," said County Council Chairman Daniel E. Klosterman Jr. "We never want to see it used incorrectly again."

The fund was established decades ago to give the county executive ready cash to spend if prime land for parks or other public facilities suddenly came on the market.

Giving the executive discretion to use the fund eliminated a time-consuming process that hurt the county during competitive negotiations, officials have said.

Last year, though several council members expressed concern that the fund could be used without their approval, they agreed to add $2.6 million to the fund. During his re-election campaign, Gary turned to the fund to pay for $2.3 million in land deals involving two of his top campaign contributors.

Gary has said his use of the fund was in keeping with its purpose. When properties became available, he said, he needed to act fast to buy them. He said each was bought for worthy projects, including a regional library, a police substation and a new campus for the community college.

One of the transactions, the $1 million purchase of Maryland City scrubland across from Laurel Park, was for projects that had not been approved in the capital budget.

The county attorney's office is investigating the deal. Two others transactions, both in Odenton, earned a close Gary ally a hefty real estate commission.

"In light of what happened," said Councilwoman Shirley Murphy, "I'm leery about having too much money in there without council approval."

Klosterman said he has asked the county auditor to draw up an amendment to County Executive Janet S. Owens' budget that would cut her $1 million request to roughly $100,000. The proposal is expected to be put forward tomorrow as the council makes cuts from the county's $730 million budget.

Owens said she would like the fund to remain intact.

"I understand their concerns, and I share them," she said. "That fund was abused. But I'd hate to not have the option of using it responsibly."

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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