Balto. Co. to make bid for state money

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore County will push the state to fully fund the school system's $70 million school construction request during this year's General Assembly session, while also seeking money for parks, a community center and infrastructure work for a planned development in Towson, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said yesterday.

The county executive's request for school money is more ambitious than last year's, when he listed $30 million for renovation and new-construction projects in his legislative agenda, but he said yesterday that he believes there is a movement afoot to add more money to what has been a limited pot.

"I think there's already a sentiment among the General Assembly leadership and membership that more capital money has to be put into the school renovation and school construction program," Smith said after announcing his priorities to state legislators during a breakfast meeting.

Smith said he is asking for $784,000 to help pay to restore fields at elementary schools and parks -- a little less than the $800,000 the county received last year after making a similar request for other sites.

His agenda also includes $900,000 for a community center at the future Tall Trees Park in Essex. A county request last year for $1.7 million in state money for the park was not funded.

Smith is also asking for $300,000 for land planning and design work for a park in the north county, $500,000 for work at Marshy Point Nature Center in Middle River, $187,000 to renovate five historic cabins at Lillian Holt Park in the Overlea-Fullerton area and $2 million for infrastructure improvements for the planned, mixed-use Towson Circle III development in Towson.

His wish list also includes nonfinancial items, such as legislation that would authorize judges to sign off on search warrants allowing police officers to enter a site without knocking first -- a practice shot down by the state's highest appellate court last year -- and a bill that would permit officers to check identification when they suspect that a crime has happened or is about to be committed.

He said he is also asking for liquor licenses for projects in Catonsville, Owings Mills and Greenspring; a retooled effort to bring retired teachers into the neediest schools; and increased regulation of group homes.

"We've built a vision of the possible," Smith told legislators. "We have energized our citizens, and like us they want to see renaissance, to see the vision realized."

After the meeting, Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, a Pikesville Democrat, said there is still a lot of uncertainty about what Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. will include in his budget and cut from it -- and how legislators will need to respond.

Smith "has a good package, a package with needs," she said. "In order to get anything, you've got to come in and make your best request -- and you have to fight for it."

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