A plan to annex Bowie Race Course to the of Bowie has drawn angry fire from the town's clergy who oppose Sunday racing.
Though not opposed to annexation of the track, most of the Bowie clergy said they believe if the track wants to be part of the city it should give up Sunday racing, which is slated to begin Jan. 27.
Church leaders fear bettors bound for the track on Sunday mornings will tangle with churchgoers, clogging city streets with traffic and discouraging worshipers from attending church.
The Maryland Racing Commission recently decided to permit the state's three thoroughbred tracks to experiment with racing on Sundays. As a result, legislation outlawing Sunday racing is awaiting action when the state legislature convenes in January.
"We believe that if they (Bowie Race Course operators) want to get any benefits from the city, they should wash their hands first," said the Rev. John F. Hogan, pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
The Bowie Ministerial Association, composed of 15 churches, has asked the Bowie City Council to hinge annexation on an argreement by track officials to drop plans for Sunday racing. The City Council is opposed to Sunday racing.
"We feel that this type of thing (annexation) should be used as a lever (to prod the track to) rescind its decision on Sunday racing," Hogan said.
The city has long sought to annex the lucrative track facility and garner for its coffers $100,000 in annual admissions taxes which now go to Prince George's County.
The current spur for annexation is the state health department's recent order that the track upgrade its old sewage treatment plant, which empties into the Patuxent River.
Under the annexation plan, which both track and city officals term "preliminary," the track would be permitted to hook into the city's new sewage treatment plant, slated to open in early 1982.
In return, the city would get the admissions taxes and a larger voice in future development and land use changes at the track.
The city offered to accept an annual $3,000 fee in lieu of property taxes for the next 25 years, after which the track would begin paying full property taxes.
G. Charles Moore, Bowie city manager, said once the final agreement is reached, annexation could take place within 10 to 12 weeks.
"They have something we need and we have something they need," said Alvin A. Karwacki, general manager of the Bowie race track.
Neither city officials nor Karwacki want the issue of Sunday racing interjected into annexation discussions.
"The two issues really aren't related and I'm not even sure that legally they could be related," said Moore. "One is in control of the state and the other is in control of the city."
"We began meeting in April and now all of a sudden people are trying to tie in Sunday racing. They are trying to create a monster where one shouldn't be created," Karwacki said.
But the specter of Sunday morning and afternoon traffic jams angers church leader who, though not morally opposed to Sunday racing, think the community has had all it can stand.
"You just can hardly move around this town," when the track is open, said the Rev. Charles E. Harvey, pastor of the St. Matthews United Methodist Church. "We feel it's almost too much of a burden to the city of Bowie Which we bear six days a week. Why do we have to do it on Sunday?"