Our county parks, a heated issue close to our hearts
The debate is on again. A controversial bill was filed on Feb. 4th by the County Executive with the State of Maryland to consolidate services for our 34,000-acre county park system with the intent of reducing costs.
Bill MC/PG 112-11 County Policy Authority, Metropolitan District Tax and Transfer of Property would give the County the authority to transfer Park Police communications and other equipment to the County Police.
The bill would transfer authority to the County Police to enforce Planning Commission regulations in parks, buildings and other areas currently under the jurisdiction of the Commission. It also makes the requirement to levy a tax on all property optional (changes "shall" to "may") and gives the Council, not the Commission, budget authority of how the tax funds are to be used. A Council vote is anticipated on Monday, but there seem to be many issues unresolved in regard to this proposal which came out of the recent report of the Organization Reform Commission (ORC). There was not unanimous support for this recommendation within the ORC.
Portions of Bill MC/PG 112-11 are already in County law. But there is a nagging question as to the wisdom of placing jurisdiction over park services under political entities. More clarity is needed in exactly what this enabling legislation would mean for our local parks and, whether it would actually result in any cost savings.
Posts from our member organizations and individuals over the past week suggest that -- at the very least ---putting the brakes on this legislation is warranted until the impacts and cost-benefits are carefully considered. We also need to look at the public safety aspects of merging Parks Police with the County Police Department. A hearing will be held in Annapolis on Feb. 25. The County Executive is expected to submit a reorganization plan to the Council by Feb. 28. The Council will then hold a public hearing on the plan by March 31 and vote on a plan prior to the adoption of the FY12 operating budget in mid-May.
Find the Council packet on the bill here.
Find the positions of the Parks Department and Planning Board Chair Francoise Carrier here along with a copy of the proposed legislation.
Read Councilmember Roger Berliner's Feb. 11th e-mail on the topic here.
Find Casey Anderson's blog post on this topic here.
Organizational Reform Commission background
The bottom line is that parks matter, yet they are not sacrosanct. Our award-winning park system needs to be positioned so that it is not vulnerable to county politics. And any proposal to reorganize needs the benefit of thorough public participation and discussion as to the merit and impact of these decisions. The rush to get Bill MC/PG 112-11 to Annapolis has aroused suspicion and speculation. We have seen legislation that is sorely needed languish in the Executive's domain, namely amendments to update the county Forest Conservation Law, while Bill MC/PG 112-11 was on the table in the blink of an eye.
We recommend deferral of any action on this legislation at the county or state levels of government until all potential impacts have been analyzed. Please weigh in. Contact your Council Members and State Legislators to express your views on this important issue.
-- Conservation Montgomery Board of Directors