Delegation kills bill to charge for school field use

Lead opponent concerned about lower-income kids

General Assembly

Howard County

February 03, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

After weeks of discussion, Howard County's legislators killed a bill to allow the school board to charge fees for the use of outdoor playing fields, one of five bills voted down yesterday in Annapolis.

Among the other defeated bills was one to slightly lower the county property tax and three intended to force large developers to pay more in property and transfer taxes. Another bill, to exempt Howard County from all-day kindergarten, was withdrawn by sponsor Del. Gail H. Bates, a Republican, for lack of support.

The delegation approved a bill to allow more than six luxury-class restaurant liquor licenses in the county and another to require notification of county officials when anyone applies to open a medical clinic serving more than 16 patients.

Bills affecting only Howard County are usually routinely approved by the full General Assembly if local legislators agree.

The school board's request for authority to charge sports leagues for using outdoor fields - as the county does for fields maintained by the Department of Recreation and Parks - was discussed for several weeks before the lopsided final vote.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, a western County Republican who has argued that some sports leagues want to pay fees in return for better-maintained fields, was the only supporter of the bill.

Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a Democrat, led the opposition, saying the bill "needs more looking and planning. I don't think the bill is ready to pass."

She showed the delegation letters from two sports groups in her southeastern county district that strongly opposed the bill on grounds that more fees would keep children from lower-income families from participating.

The Atholton Youth Recreation Association and the Savage Boys and Girls Club said they were worried that the fees would keep out some children.

Courtney Watson, the school board chairman, said the board might create a study group to discuss the situation with youth sports groups and find a way to keep the fields in better shape without burdening the school budget.

Waiting until next year to submit a new bill "will mean at least two years of substandard playing fields," she said. The board would like to act sooner, she said.

The school system wants to find a way to improve the condition of heavily used school playing fields without having to spend money that could be used for classroom education. The bill would have allowed fees similar to those charged to sports groups by the county's Department of Recreation and Parks. The school board is spending $1.9 million this year for administration, equipment and field maintenance.

The two bills that were approved address very different issues. Howard County now allows only six luxury-class restaurant liquor licenses, which are issued to places that seat at least 125 people and cost $750,000 to equip and furnish, not including the building. All six are taken, however, and corporations wanted more licenses.

The health clinic bill, sponsored by state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader, a Republican, and Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Democrat, is intended to prevent for-profit methadone clinics from opening without public awareness.

Still to be decided on is the Robey administration bill proposing creation of a county revenue authority, and another Bates tax bill - this one to give seniors a property tax break.

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