County asks Maryland for $70.6 million

Ruppersberger eyes surplus in request to rebuild schools and neighborhoods

January 06, 2000|By David Nitkin | David Nitkin,SUN STAFF

Hungry for a thick slice of a nearly $1 billion state tax surplus, Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger is asking for an unprecedented $70.6 million in state funds to revitalize neighborhoods and fix schools.

"This agenda is by far the most expansive and aggressive of any we have presented in the past five years," Ruppersberger told state lawmakers and county officials assembled at Towson University yesterday to receive the county's wish list for the General Assembly session that begins next week.

The county will need to be aggressive: It is competing against other jurisdictions with an eye on the state's cash-rich treasury and typically wins only a portion of what it requests.

Most of the money, $41.3 million, would be used to renovate elementary schools, wire middle schools for computers and replace science laboratories at eight high schools.

While the county runs public schools with local tax dollars, the state pays for construction, and area lawmakers must secure their district's share in each year's spending plan. A year ago, Ruppersberger asked for $36 million and received $30 million.

In addition, the executive has sweeping plans to spark development in Essex/Middle River, Dundalk, Owings Mills and the Liberty Road commercial corridor in Randallstown. The county would sink millions of tax dollars into those neighborhoods to buy land, demolish rundown buildings and build parking areas, in the hope that private investment would follow.

The projects would rely on $24 million in state funds in the coming year, along with legislation to give the county the authority to condemn private property targeted for redevelopment.

County officials envision a pedestrian-oriented town center in Owings Mills, an upscale waterfront village in Essex, and modern, attractive shopping and residential areas along Liberty Road and Yorkway in Dundalk.

"An unfortunate fact is that despite the remarkable economy, and despite the millions of dollars that we have invested in neighborhood renewal, some areas of our county still are not all they can be," Ruppersberger said. "Some are truly struggling. Others are doing fine, but their true potential remains untapped."

While state lawmakers embraced Ruppersberger's vision, they sought to temper its scope.

"I don't know how much of it he's really going to get," said Del. Joseph J. "Sonny" Minnick, the Dundalk Democrat who heads the county delegation. "That's a big order for the governor. I'm sure there is going to be a lot more people at the trough this year. If he gets half of it, I'd be surprised."

But Ruppersberger is willing to try. As in recent years, he will serve as the county's most visible lobbyist in Annapolis.

"Baltimore County has always had a well-thought-out program," said Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, chairwoman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "You have to show the big picture. You don't expect to get all funding at once."

The county's wish list also includes requests for:

$1 million to demolish Woodlawn Elementary School in Woodlawn Village and replace it with a community center.

$1 million to buy land in Chesapeake Village in Middle River to create a waterfront park; and $1 million to build a boat ramp and relocate maintenance facilities at Chesterwood Park in Dundalk.

$900,000 to renovate part of North Point Village Shopping Center in Dundalk for an indoor soccer field and other recreation space.

$600,000 each toward the construction of Police Athletic League facilities in Reisterstown and Mars Estates in Essex/Middle River.

The list contains no mention of social services programs or initiatives for the elderly, the disabled or for single mothers.

That's because Ruppersberger believes that community projects provide the foundation to remedy social ills, said Patrick H. Roddy, an assistant county attorney who handles legislative relations.

"How do you prevent these things?" Roddy said. "By keeping neighborhoods strong."

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