Our Endangered Park Police?
President’s Letter – By Ginny Barnes
Our park system is a defining characteristic of Montgomery County and its vision. With 34,000 acres of nationally-recognized parkland, Montgomery County offers citizens a wide variety of green space, historic and cultural sites, recreational facilities, and diverse ecosystems. It is under the jurisdiction of Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission (MNCPPC), a bi-county agency chartered by the State of Maryland. There are obvious reasons for keeping such valuable assets out of the reach of elected politicians. In recent years several proposals have surfaced that appear to threaten the delicate balance of parks stewardship.
About two years ago, there was an attempt by the County Executive, sparked by an Office of Management and Budget Report and supported by Councilmember Marc Elrich to absorb Parks programming into the Recreation Department which is under the jurisdiction of the Executive Branch. Questions arose about the complicated relationship between park ownership and programs, particularly with facilities such as ball fields, ice rinks and tennis courts. Who would handle maintenance? How to separate out programming that was strictly recreational from that which also teaches stewardship of our parks? Who would control changes to facilities located within a larger park setting? There was public opposition. After being charged by the Council to at least find a solution to a confusing program delivery system, the Recreation Department and the Department of Parks worked closely together to streamline program registration and eliminate duplication. The merger effort was put aside.
Then budget discussions at the County Council in 2010 brought up a new idea. Merge the Park Police into the County Police Force. Like the recreation merger, this was billed as a cost saving measure. The issue was argued back and forth without definitive action. But County Executive Ike Leggett was convinced the police merger will save money and lead to better service, so he introduced legislation to the State Delegation in Annapolis. The first incarnation of the legislation requested far-reaching powers and was rejected by the Delegation, and a milder form of enabling legislation subsequently introduced by County Executive Leggett, and the second measure, proposed State Bill MC/PG 112-11. This would have empowered the County Council to make police merger decisions as well as eliminating a provision that currently sets aside a portion of property taxes for parks, thus providing an assured means of covering debt as well as buying and maintaining park property. The bill could have hurt MNCPPC’s bond rating and raised the interest rate they pay to borrow money.
Already unpopular with Prince George County, the Montgomery County Council was not convinced of the need for a merger, and Council President Valerie Ervin said the proposed legislation “over-reached” what was needed to simply enable such an action. At least five Council members opposed, several vigorously. Rejected by the very body it would have enabled, the legislation stood little chance in Annapolis, and County Executive Leggett has withdrawn the bill, vowing to bring it back again in the fall when State legislators return.
There is controversy and many questions. Is an unproved saving of $2 million out of a more than $4 billion county budget worth the logistical nightmare of joining two police forces with very different benefit packages, training and duties? Will our parks be less safe? Will parkland come closer to being under the control of government entities committed to creating more housing in a county reaching build-out? Will the proposed merger even produce any cost savings? There is no enthusiasm for the proposed merger among either of the affected workforces. Finally, by starting to blur the edges of park stewardship responsibilities, do we expose our treasured parks and green spaces to being reduced to political footballs by putting their fates and their budgets within the discretion of this and future County Executives?
WMCCA believes that since this issue is not going away. Since we have nearly ten percent of the total county parkland here in the Potomac Subregion, it is time we became acquainted with the full duties of Park Police and learn how they deal with issues of encroachment, public safety, and resource stewardship. The public is always welcome to attend our meetings. We look forward to seeing you March 9.
Planning and Zoning:
The Tavern at River Falls: WMCCA membership voted to support this project at the February General Meeting. WMCCAs Board reviewed the site plan and renderings with the architect, landlord and applicants attorney, and found the plan to be consistent with the current character of the shopping center. In our letter to the Planning Commission we noted the courtyard of the center is currently a popular gathering area. We are satisfied that the planned addition into this courtyard will not encroach on this community asset. We are also heartened by the landlords agreement to improve the loss of trees in the parking lot. We look forward to a lively and welcome addition to Potomac Village. The project is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission on March 10, 2011.
C&O Canal National Historic Park at Old Angler’s Inn: You may have noticed significant land disturbance along the road adjacent to Old Angler’s Inn and across the street on National Park property. The National Park Service has issued permits to construct four Potomac Interceptor sewer odor control structures. One of the four is located here. The odor control buildings require a water line that is being installed on the Old Angler’s side of MacArthur Boulevard. NPS decided to add public restrooms to the project since a water line was needed anyway. However, construction has been slowed by the discovery of extensive fill where foundations for the structures would be needed, and piers to support the foundations have been sunk to solid earth beneath the site.
About WMCCA: WMCCA is your umbrella civic voice for Potomac. We uphold the principles of our Master Plan to protect our low-density zoning, our two-lane and rustic road system and our plentiful environmental resources. We monitor development plans and shape policies that ensure we maintain our community as it was envisioned as the western residential green buffer to the Agricultural Reserve. With our abundant forests, wetlands, streams and parkland, we enjoy a quality of life unique in Montgomery County. WMCCA works to keep it that way. Please join us.
West Montgomery County Citizens Association Newsletter
P. O. Box 59335
Potomac, MD 20854-9335
President – Ginny Barnes 301 762-6423
Newsletter – Lois Williams
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