This new year seems chock-full of promise


HAPPY NEW Year. And now, let's get straight to the business of having fun.

That's because this new year appears to have lots of promise and potential, if you think Howard County needs more and better facilities for amateur athletes of all ages.

Here's a refresher seminar, as we all get back to normal after the holidays:

After several years of building and planning and talking, the Department of Recreation and Parks is scheduled to open several facilities in 2005.

And the county school system will at least be trying for a breakthrough that will generate a lot of debate but also could result in improved field conditions so important to most youth baseball, softball, soccer and lacrosse organizations.

And, not least by any measure, money is flowing again into county government accounts. That is mainly because of the double-digit increases in property values that have turned 30-year-old homes originally priced in the $50s, as real estate agents like to put it, into $375,000-plus cash cows, as incredible as that seems to anyone who has lived here for a couple of decades or more.

What those soaring prices mean, among other things, is a record increase in transfer taxes - money paid to county government on each sale.

And that, said Gary J. Arthur, director of the Department of Recreation and Parks, means a $9.8 million construction budget proposal by his agency for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"That's quite large for us," he said. "But the important part is that we're asking for just $1.4 million of it in bonds [borrowed money]. The rest would come from the transfer taxes and grants."

Now, before those of you who cling to the archaic belief that county government should not be in the business of fun and games get itchy, let it be said that the rec and parks agenda is not at all unreasonable, given the nature of the county's growth.

In fact, there is pent-up demand from several years of making Abe Lincoln cry every time a penny got spent. And there is need - in the Savage area, in Western Howard County, in Elkridge.

For growth means kids, who come from younger adults. Kids and young adults need space to play, and life as we know it in the early 21st century means organized teams and leagues for anyone who wants to play anything from age 5 or so into late adulthood. And that means pressure for adequate fields and gyms.

So, weather permitting, rec and parks will be opening two sorely needed synthetic, lighted fields for soccer and lacrosse, mainly, at Western Regional Park in Glenwood this fall. And three baseball/softball fields, as well.

In Ellicott City, where Meadowbrook Park at Route 100 and U.S. 29 seems to have been under construction for ages, two more soccer-size playing fields and three baseball/softball fields are to open in time for fall ball, as well.

Maybe more importantly, the proposed construction budget includes money to build an indoor facility at Meadowbrook with two areas capable of being used for basketball, as well as roller hockey, indoor soccer, lacrosse and football.

Lights are being sought for baseball and softball diamonds in Rockburn Branch Park, off Montgomery Road.

Oh, that proposed tennis center for a new park in Elkridge we wrote about a month or so ago didn't make the department's proposed budget. Reason: The department is waiting for the Howard County Tennis Association to do a feasibility study that would define the level of interest.

The most interesting development for 2005 probably will involve the school system getting - assuming the county's legislative delegation gets a law passed in Annapolis - the right to charge for using its fields.

That school board proposal merits attention, but all county sports groups that would be affected - virtually all - simply must participate in the inevitable hearings that will decide, first, whether to charge, and then, how much.

At the very least, leaders should demand that the school system budget include a line item that clearly identifies how much money is allocated for field and gym maintenance, with another line for scheduling. That way, we could tell at a glance when school officials cut out the needed money at the final moment.

Then, get out your calculators. Could your baseball group, say, pass along, uh, $12 an hour for practices and games, per field, spread over, oh, 10 weeks, divided by how many kids you have in your program?

Hey, y'all do the math, decide whether the figure's worth it to your group, go tell our politicians, and we'll do the reporting.

Happy New Year.

Call the writer at 410-332-6525, or send e-mail to

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