Open Space funding shrinks

Carroll County parks won't receive as much green from the state this year.

The county's share of Program Open Space money for fiscal 2005 is $408,646, the lowest amount in at least a decade from the state fund that is generated by real estate sales to help pay for recreational projects throughout Maryland.


In 2002, Carroll reached a high of more than $1.1 million in open space money, and it received nearly $1 million annually in 2000 and 2001. The amount has dropped considerably since then, falling below $500,000 for the year that began July 1.

"It is appreciably less this year, our lowest allocation ever," said Steven Powell, the commissioner's chief of staff. "This certainly is an issue for us to monitor in the upcoming legislative session."


The state allocates open space money to the counties and Baltimore, based on a per capita formula. Spurred by the boom in real estate, the fund reached $157 million this year. Much of the money would ordinarily go to property acquisition for parks, recreation projects and land preservation. But with its record budget shortfall, the state had other pressing needs for the fund this year.

"There were fewer dollars put into POS this year, because the legislature had to set different priorities," said Chip Price, spokesman for the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the program. "This is not a permanent cut, but a diversion of funds to address other needs in the state."

Although the tax on transfers of property is dedicated to open space and land preservation, the legislature has had, since the early 1990s, the option of putting the money into the general fund, particularly in times of budget crises.

"There was only $15 million made available for POS [statewide]," said Richard J. Soisson, Carroll's director of recreation and parks. "The rest went into the general fund to balance the budget."

The commissioners approved Soisson's proposals for using the money yesterday. The county will use half its allocation to acquire more parkland and much of the remaining money to fund capital projects. The most notable among those is the construction of a trail system at Gillis Falls Park near Mount Airy.

Carroll will allot $71,513 to various projects in four of the county's eight towns, which share in the funds on a rotating basis. Projects in Hampstead, Manchester, Mount Airy and Sykesville won approval yesterday.

Manchester will install ball field lights in Christmas Tree Park at a cost of $17,250. Hampstead can extend the road into Hampstead Municipal Park and make improvements to the storm water pond and security systems with $20,513 in open space funds. Mount Airy will spend $3,750 to replace a sign at Vest Pocket Park and $11,250 to make a soccer field at Watkins Park safer with a fence along an embankment. Sykesville will use $11,250 to landscape and add an iron fence to Old Main Line Park, near its Visitor Center downtown. The town will also put up a $7,500 gazebo in a small park in a residential subdivision.

The other four towns - New Windsor, Taneytown, Union Bridge and Westminster - will share in open space funds next year. If there is to be any increase, Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge said, "We will have to fight for it."