Council delays decision on Arundel golf course

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Anne Arundel County Council continued discussions last night on a possible takeover of the financially troubled Compass Pointe Golf Course in Pasadena but put off a final decision until next month.

The council is considering issuing $26 million in bonds to buy out the quasi-public Maryland Economic Development Corp., which has developed and managed Compass Pointe.

But the council is also weighing a bill that would keep Compass Pointe under MEDCO control, with the county offering financial support if the course continued to lose money.

Last night, the council heard testimony from several experts it hired to study the financial prospects for the course, where 27 of a planned 36 holes are open. With little resolved, council members said they would hold a work session on the golf course Jan. 11.

County leaders have debated what to do about the course since they made a $1.1 million bailout loan to MEDCO last year to make up for revenue shortfalls. Council members said they were frustrated that the county's contract with MEDCO made the $1.1 million loan a virtual obligation, although the county plays little role in supervising the course.

Last night, they expressed renewed frustrations at the county's involvement with the course.

"This is not an essential service; this is a golf course," said Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk, an Annapolis-area Democrat. "Why can't we just say no?"

Other council members repeated concerns that the county could hurt its credit rating by failing to support the course.

"The financial markets see us as on the hook," said Council President Ronald C. Dillon Jr., a Pasadena Republican. "That's what truly matters."

Under one of the bills being considered, MEDCO would issue $24 million in state-backed bonds to refinance the original $17.6 million construction cost and cover subsequent cost overruns. The county would not be directly responsible for the $24 million, but MEDCO could ask for financial bailouts similar to the loan last spring.

Under the other bill, the county would refinance the project with $26 million of its bonds and take over operations. That bill would end MEDCO's involvement.

Robert Brennan, executive director of MEDCO, has said he would welcome a county takeover of the course. Such a move would be preferable, some county officials say, because it would lower interest costs and reduce uncertainty.

But council members say the county needs assurances that the course would not take money away from other building projects and would generate enough revenue to cover interest payments on the $26 million bond issue.

The county bought land for a golf course in the 1980s and later persuaded developers to donate additional property.

MEDCO officials have blamed revenue shortfalls and cost overruns on a delayed opening caused by persistent wet weather last year. The original budget called for the course to be self-sufficient by now.

Under its agreement with MEDCO, the county is supposed to take over the golf course when MEDCO's bonds are paid off in 25 to 30 years.

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