Over the past three years, $117 million in tax revenues earmarked for land preservation have been diverted to help balance Maryland's budget. Yesterday, top state officials agreed borrow money to get the stalled conservation program moving again.
Despite objections from veteran state Comptroller Louis L. Goldstein, the two remaining members of the Board of Public Works -- Gov. William Donald Schaefer and state Treasurer Lucille Maurer -- voted to sell general obligation bonds to raise about $3 million to buy 10 parcels in eight counties. The 2,000 acres of land will be used for parks or state forests.
Mr. Goldstein, who yesterday abstained from voting, has blocked the bond sale for months even though the General Assembly has twice passed bills authorizing a total of $22 million in such borrowing. He said he believes that parkland should be purchased with cash, arguing that borrowing should be reserved for more important programs, such as school construction.
Before voting, the board withdrew two parcels that had been slated for acquisition -- one of them a 216-acre Baltimore County tract in Cromwell Valley, about a mile northeast of Towson.
Although no reason for the withdrawal was offered at the meeting, both Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Goldstein made it clear they were unhappy with Baltimore County legislators -- who have voted against land acquisition proposals in other counties and voted against the tax increases that balanced this year's budget.
"Over in Baltimore County, they vote against every expenditure of money. They voted against the budget. . . . They criticized the buying of land elsewhere. They're always critical," Mr. Schaefer complained.
Later, Page Boinest, the governor's acting press secretary, said the board also was concerned about the $3.7 million price tag of the Baltimore County parcel.
The decision not to buy the land, which would have become part of the Gunpowder Falls State Park, infuriated Del. Martha S. Klima, a Republican and outspoken critic of the administration in whose district the tract is located.
"If that is their reason for denying this project, shame on them," she said. "We certainly pay our fair share of the taxes and should get our fair share of the Program Open Space money. That piece of property is within a mile of the downtown center core of Towson, a very, very urbanized area. And it abuts a beautiful property owned by the city in the Loch Raven watershed."
She said it was "an abomination" for the state not to finance the Baltimore County project at a time the Schaefer administration was using money from the program to help Prince George's County buy land for a new minor league baseball stadium near Bowie.
The other proposed purchase dropped from the list yesterday was Bodkin Island, which is in the Eastern Bay, south of Kent Narrows, and is part of Queen Anne's County. That was withdrawn after federal officials informed the state that they no longer intended to help pay the acquisition costs. The state had hoped to make the island a refuge for black ducks.
10 PROPERTIES ARE . . .
* 149 acres for $75,371, to become part of the Warrior Mountain Wildlife Management Area.
* 50 acres for $80,000, to become part of the Green Ridge State Forest.
* 34 acres for $250,000, to preserve land adjacent to the Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum.
* 27 acres, a house, a barn, three greenhouses, a gift shop and a gazebo, for $450,000. Project will protect Morgan Run from further development, and structures will be used for a conference center and arboretum for the public.
* 99 acres for $698,184, to be part of the Patapsco Valley State Park.
* 23 acres for $96,432, to protect the second highest waterfall in the state, located on this property, which would become part of Rocks State Park in the Falling Branch/Deep Creek area.
* 49 acres for $10,930, to become part of the Deal Island Wildlife Management Area.
* Five acres for $32,266, to become part of the South Mountain State Park.
* 1,588 acres for $1.15 million, to become part of the Eastern Shore Wildlife Management Area near Nanticoke.
* Six acres for $95,000, to become part of the Pocomoke River State Forest.