Eight new Prince George's County parks, playgrounds and recreation centers will be dedicated this month and ground will be broken for 10 more, the largest number of such ceremonies in one month that park officials can remember. But then, as park officials say, it's an election year.
The $1.8-million in projects, most in densely populated areas inside the Beltway , include 13 tennis courts, nine ballfields, six playgrounds, five picnic areas, two basketball courts, many tot lots and a $530,000 community center by Glassmanor Elementary School in Forest Heights.
The flurry of park activity in Prince George's County comes in a year of severe cutbacks in other park and recreation programs of the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which for the past 50 years has acquired and maintained Montgomery and Prince George's county parks.
Many of the 18 dedications and ground-breakings, plus 10 that took place earlier this year and another 15 to 20 planned for later this summer - probably before election day - actually were funded in 1976 before the county trimmed the park budget. Many were completed last year and already are in use but only now are being dedicated.
A number of the projects were paid for with voter-approved bond issues two or more years ago, "frozen" by the ocunty last year and only later released during a thaw in the County Council's thinking about parks, according to park officials.
This spring and summer abundance of ribbon-cutting, ceremonial spading of the earth and speeches, which has attracted numerous neighborhood residents and many local and state officials - more than 30 at one dedication several weeks ago - is something Prince George's apparently won't see again for many years.
"Most of these parks are the result of the action of (County Executive Winfield M.) Kelly and the council two years ago when they elminated the 'wish list' of park projects and decided to go ahead and build a package of parks they felt were needed around the county," Kelly's senior assistant, John Lally, said this week.
The so-called "wish list" had been a traditional method of handling community groups who came in and wanted something done in their neighborhoods, Lally said. Local parks were included in the long-range capital improvement program, 10 or more years away, "and nobody worried about a park on the drawing boards for 1997," said Lally.
"My understanding is that the parks we've got coming on now are just about it. That'll be all for a good while," although ground will be broken for 10 small park projects during the coming year, Lally said.
As for the many politicians at the dedication of every small neighborhood tot lot and playground, Lally said whimsically, "Well, it is and election year and it's spring time, good weather and the grass looks green" and the candidates for public office appear like flowers in the parks.
The $23 million fiscal 1979 park operating budget approved by the council last month, after public hearings where residents expressed strong interest in local parks, is almost $1 million more than this year's budget. But the funds actually will only maintain park services at about this year's reduced level - the County Council severely cut this year's park budget, which has meant fewer and shorter park programs and less maintenance of county parkland.
For fiscal 1979, which begins in July, no additional programs or stepped-up maintenance is planned and no additional employes will be hired. Inflation and built-in salary increases will eat up most of the $1 million budget increase, say park officials.
While the council has just voted to increase the park tax rate on residents' property by 3 cents, to 40 cents on each $100 of assessed value, the rate is still below the 42-cent rate that existed two years ago. The council last year cut it back 5 cents.
The biggest single project to be officially noticed this month will be a groundbreaking for the $530,000 community center and gymansium to be built on park property beside the Glassmanor Neighborhood School in Forest Heights.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held June 1 for the $105,000 addition to the Beltsville community center. Three groundbreakings in the Hyattsville area will be held Saturday: a $132,000 renovation of outdoor areas around Lane Manor community center; a nearby playground and tennis court in a new two-acre Edmonston Street mini-park, and a new $71,000 Crittenden Street playground with tennis courts, ballfield and picnic shelter.
Also on Saturday, a new $50,000 playground with a ballfield and tennis court will be dedicated in the Decatur Heights section of Bladensburg.
The Decatur Heights playground and several new parks have been vandalized in recent months. Damage to park property in the past 10 months has been placed at $25,000, said officials. It is expected to be repaired shortly.
Because of the vandalism, the park authority may ask neighborhood and civic groups to sponsor and look after local parks, according to Steven Davis, park community affairs official, especially since many of the park improvements have been requested by local groups.
Later this month there will be ceremonies to mark improvements in playgrounds, small parks and recreation centers in Mount Rainier, Highland Park, Seat Pleasant, Forestville, Oxon Hill, Temple Hills, Marlboro Meadows, North Englewood, Kettering and Cheverly.