Officials push tax plan for athletics

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Dwindling recreation funds, a shortage of gyms and increased participation in athletic programs throughout Carroll County are burdening recreation leagues, playing havoc with schedules and forcing teams to compete for space and fields.

Recreation is one more area that could benefit from the county's proposed real estate transfer tax, officials said yesterday. The 1 percent levy, assessed at the time a property sale is settled, could add $7.5 million in revenue next year, officials said.

It costs about $700,000 to enlarge a school gymnasium, an amount the county spent at Parr's Ridge Elementary to build a gym larger than that required by state standards. The school, in Mount Airy, is scheduled for a September opening.

The expansion will mean more space for after-school recreation programs. Two rec leagues - Winfield and Mount Airy - were vying for the space.

The county Department of Recreation and Parks mediated the dispute after the commissioners and recreation officials were flooded with calls and e-mail.

Richard Soisson, department director, collected data on basketball programs and enrollments. The department will schedule time in the new gym "to ensure that no one group gets the upper hand in scheduling," Soisson said.

"To be fair, we are splitting the use 50-50," Soisson said.

Rec space crunch

The crunch will only worsen because several high schools have evening and Saturday games, leaving no time or space for rec leagues, Soisson said. State money, usually Planned Open Space grants, has helped the county pay for recreational facilities. Those funds have been slashed in recent years, Soisson said.

"In the last two years, we have averaged about 25 percent of what we should get," he said. "We got around $400,000 this year, when we have gotten more than $1 million in the past."

No money for gym

The county had planned to build a new community gym in its new $3 million South Carroll Senior Center, but no funds are available for that portion of the project.

The seniors and other community groups have outgrown the present center, a 60-year-old former elementary school on Bartholow Road. Nearly 140 outside groups, many of them with sports-related activities, used the facility in the past three months, officials said.

"If the state is not a player anymore, we have to take another look at how to provide the services that people want," Commissioner Dean L. Minnich said yesterday.

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