More than just a planning agency


FRANK A. DeFilippo' assessment of the Baltimore Regiona Council of Governments as a "top-heavy bureaucracy that's spending nearly $10 million a year to produce very little the public can actually see," demands response both in terms of fairness and accuracy, particularity when he poses the question: "Do we really need the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments?" (Other Voices, June 6).

The regional council has an operating budget of $2.6 million and employs 43 people. While we do manage a total budget of $9.1 LTC million, $6.5 million is for federal pass-through programs for regional housing assistance and for transportation planning which assures the region's eligibility for federal transportation funding.

What does the Baltimore region get for the $2.6 million in operating support to the regional council, and who is paying the tab?

The state of Maryland provides $250,000 of our funds, or 10 percent, and the six major local governments that comprise the Baltimore region contribute shares. Local funds account for 20 percent of the council's budget, matching state funds on a 2-for-1 ratio. The regional council's major funding comes from the federal government to support transportation planning and housing assistance.

But what is it that we do?

If you have used the 911 emergency number in Baltimore city or Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, you have come in touch with the regional council. We provide geographic data showing every address in these counties to facilitate dispatching of emergency crews. Possibly you remember reading about how this system was used to analyze the geographic pattern of the "shotgun burglaries" that plagued the region last spring.

Perhaps you are one of the 3,500 people who annually inquire about regional demographic and economic information by contacting the council's Regional Information Center. Maybe you need information about your own community or some other place for expansion of business markets or to organize a community group or to draft a legislative proposal. Well, we are known as the source for regional information.

Perhaps you know one of the 1,500 low-income families or developmentally disabled individuals who currently use regional housing assistance certificates issued by local authorities and administered by the regional council. This innovative program, begun in 1979, allows mobility for people among the jurisdictions of the region, thus giving them an opportunity to live near jobs and family.

Perhaps you are one of the families whose emergency housing need has been alleviated by assistance from the state-funded Rental Allowance Program. Perhaps you are one of the 1.6 million people throughout the region who drink the water provided by the Baltimore city reservoir system. The regional council coordinates an agreement among Baltimore and Carroll counties and Baltimore city to protect the environmental around the system's three regional reservoirs. Maybe you are a taxpayer concerned about cost savings in government purchasing. We work to expand markets and reduce costs for governments through cooperative purchasing.

I hope you are getting the picture of an organization that does a lot more than prepare an advisory general development plan every five years. Indeed, our mission has greatly changed. That's why we changed our name -- to make it clear that we are not an ivory-tower planning organization, but very much involved in regional programs, services to local government and policy issues.

We are a comprehensive planning organization, yet we are far more, since we manage unique programs and help to formulate a broader public policy agenda. We are striving to create a means for regional decision-making which can cope with the new realities of global economic competition. Our future quality of life will depend on these efforts.

Guy W. Hager is executive director of the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

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