Budget decision on parks explained In response to...

LETTERS

May 05, 2002

Budget decision on parks explained

In response to Lowell Sunderland's column in the April 28 Sun, "Shifting parks funds not good government," let me put the budget decision he addresses in proper perspective.

As everyone knows, including Mr. Sunderland, Howard County is facing a very difficult budget year as are all of our neighboring jurisdictions and, indeed, the State of Maryland as a whole. As we put our budget together, my guiding principle was to preserve the gains that we had made over the past three years in funding education, public safety, roads and bridges infrastructures, libraries and, yes, recreation and parks. At the same time, I made it clear that all service areas would have to make some sacrifices. No one area received all that was requested, requiring all to pull their belts tighter in order to maintain the current levels of service that our citizens have a right to expect.

Mr. Sunderland specifically questioned what he called my "confiscation" of $1.7 million from the Recreation and Parks self-sustaining funds. While it would have been helpful and fair had Mr. Sunderland provided your readers the background and current situation regarding these funds, let me do it for him absent the rhetoric and ascription of political motives.

The self-sustaining fund was created more than a decade ago to give the Recreation and Parks Department budget flexibility to offer programs in which program fees covered all costs. As the program offerings of the department expanded, it became clear that the internal administrative functions of the county, such as payroll and personnel, were spending a lot of money to support the activities of this fund. Thus, the county began tracking these costs so that the full cost of these "self-sustaining" programs could be charged to the users. In FY 1996 the county began charging the fund an administrative overhead fee to recover these costs. Unfortunately, that fund went into deficit in 1997 and the county stopped charging that fee and did not resume that practice until the 2002 budget. That meant that from 1997 through 2001 general tax dollars were subsidizing this fund that was supposed to be self-sufficient. Financial reports show that this subsidy was near $3 million dollars between 1997 and 2002.

My decision to take back these surplus funds was based on two reasons. First, it is clear that the county had been subsidizing a function that was supposed to be self-sustaining. In a year which each general fund dollar was critical, I felt that I needed to balance the books on this subsidy. Now that the fund is being charged an overhead fee, I believe that there is more justification to leave any future surpluses with the fund.

Second, the Department of Recreation and Parks indicated to me that they wanted to use these funds to build an artificial turf playing field. While I understand that this field may help to lower future operating costs, I do not believe that in a very tight budget year that it is as high a priority as maintaining current critically needed public services.

While this was not an easy decision, it was a carefully considered and, I believe, right one in a year filled with difficult decisions.

James N. Robey

Howard County Executive

From every village, let loyalty ring!

Reference is made to the proposal, reported on the first page of The Sun, that members of the Columbia Council take an oath of allegiance to the corporation/homeowner's association ("Matter of allegiance for Columbia group," May 2).

The Columbia Council's proposal to require loyalty oaths is another example of the excellent ideas which we have come to expect from the Council. My only complaint is that their proposal does not go far enough. Why should only Council members be asked to swear an oath of fealty to the Columbia Association (CA)? Why should we send a message to everyone else in Columbia that it's OK for them to be disloyal?

We must expect and demand loyalty from everyone who dwells on Columbia's sacred soil. It is certainly not too much to ask that schools in Columbia begin the day with a recitation by the students of an oath to CA: "We pledge allegiance to the Columbia Association and to the open spaces and recreational facilities for which it stands, one geographical area, under the Rouse Company, with open spaces and recreation for all who can afford it."

Shouldn't each homeowner be required to swear an oath of allegiance as well? Of course, they can decline to execute the oath. But then it's only fair to expect them to relocate to a place for which they are willing to swear allegiance. Even if it doesn't have a tennis court or a swimming pool.

Should we let teachers who are not willing to take the oath teach in our schools? Of course not! We don't want anyone teaching in a Columbian school who might dis' our beloved homeland.

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