Anne Arundel counts much among the missing


OK, maybe a missing desk or two, but how does a county misplace a dump truck? Or a police car?

Well, Anne Arundel County apparently has.

County Executive John G. Gary says because the county doesn't have any written inventory, it has lost track of more than $50 million in property -- everything from desk chairs to chain saws and other heavy equipment -- in 30 years.

"This is every purchase made since Charter Government," Mr. Gary said in a memo last month to the County Council. "Nothing has been removed [from the county's books] due to damage or simple replacement. Worse yet, no one knows who has these items in their possession or who is responsible for them."

An inventory was done in 1985, but officials concede they've misplaced that, too.

Beyond that, the county may have misplaced the deeds to hundreds of parcels of property obtained in right-of-way purchases, land swaps and other deals.

"We don't know if these properties are worth absolutely nothing or if we are sitting on a gold mine," said George C. Shenk Jr., chairman of Mr. Gary's transition team. "It may take a couple of years just to figure out what we own."

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, said the county may own more than 1,500 parcels, ranging from several acres down to a couple hundred square feet. She said her agency has begun compiling a list.

Jerome W. Klasmeier, director of the county's Office of Central Services, said his office is struggling to get a handle on other fixed assets. Mr. Klasmeier said the man who supervised the 1985 inventory retired and the paperwork vanished.

KPMG Peat Marwick, a national accounting firm that audits Anne Arundel's finances, has scolded county officials repeatedly for not keeping better track of assets, said Finance Officer John Hammond.

Mr. Hammond urged the County Council last month to fund two consultants to sort things out. Unconvinced, the council cut the $70,000 expenditure from the budget.

Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans said the executive never made clear what good tracking down a desk bought in 1965 would do.

"Whatever is taken and gone today, I don't know how you recover it," she said. The county ought to be able to take stock of its inventory with county employees, she said.

"Obviously, it would cause alarm to me if people were walking off with county property," said Ms. Evans.

Of course, there was that incident last month, she noted. The one where the Department of Public Works found more than $100,000 of its equipment in an auto body shop owned by a former supervisor.

However, Ms. Evans said, she does not believe those sorts of problems are widespread.

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