Round Three in Montgomery County's Great Recreation Program Battle ended in a deadlock Tuesday when the county to council failed to agree on whether to continue the summer Outreach program throughtout the year.
Debate over the relatively minor county program has escalated in the last several weeks into a mojor clash between County Executive James P. Gleason, who has been fighting for expansion of the program, and the county council which is split over the issue of funding. Outreach, which operated during the summer, attempts to draw youths into productive recreational activities.
Gleason's proposal has also drawn protests from five private youth groups which contend that the money would not be spent effectively. Gleason has asked for a $243,840 emergency appropriation to continue the Outreach program. At the time of the recent public hearing on the Outreach proposal, Charles Atwell, director of Middle Earth, one of the five youth groups, claimed that the summer program would be ineffective in its street work during the winter months.
The council agreed to take up the matter again Tuesday when council member Dickran Hovsepian, who was absent this week, is expected to be presented. Votes on alternate plans failed by votes of 4-2, 3-3, and 2-4. Hovsepian's presence is expected by council members to make it easier for them to obtain the five votes needed to adopt a plan.
Following the public hearing, the council discussed the issue and sent Gleason back to try to design a program requiring less money and one which would also aid the private groups. However, Gleason returned to the council this week to tell them that the Outreach program could not operate on anything less than the sum he proposed.
In a memo to county council president John L. Manke, Gleason blamed the controversy sparked by his proposal on the other five organizations which operate drop-in centers for youths in the county and receive county funding that totals $173,610.
"A handful of private agencies have again organized determined opposition to a government service - not because the programs lacks merit - but because I did not propose that the program be dismantled, its operation taken away those who have adminstered it well and the funds scattered among several private agencies," Gleason wrote to Menke.
"This isn't a fight," Menke said later of the continuing debate on what to do with Outreach. "But it is probably the biggest disagreement we've had on a social issue."
"There is nobody who is against this program," council vice-president Elizabeth Scull said, "or who questions that it is providing a much needed service. The only question between us is how best this need can be served."
All of the council members present said they wanted to continue the Outreach program, but most of them said they were worried about continuing it at the $243,000 level. "Before we commit that kind of resource, we've got to have more information on what the county needs," Menke said.
He noted that if the Outreach program were funded as requested, by the end of the fiscal year in April, the amount spent on Outreach alone would be $334,260. That would be in addtion to the $173,610 that the county now provides for the five youth organizations together.
Menke suggested that the council appropriate enough money for six full-time Outreach workers and $30,000 for the other private agencies. Then, after a series of public hearings which Gleason is scheduled to hold in the next couple of months, the county would evaluate the need for additional funding.
The original proposal called for 14 full-time Outreach workers. "Don't ask us to perform the program with six workers," said Gleason, who sat glumly through most of the council meeting with his hands under his chin or over his eyes. "It's better to have nothing."