Prince George's County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan has launched a campaign to divide the bicounty Maryland National Park and Planning Commission and to place the Prince George's planning, park and recreation departments under the control of the county government.
Hogan said his move was prompted by his dissatisfaction with too few efforts by the commission to cut costs and by proposed cutbacks in services to Prince George's citizens.
Montgomery and Prince George's now combine administration of land and development planning and operation of parks in both counties under the commission.The bicounty agency also oversees Prince George's county recreation programs, while in Montgomery the recreation department is administered by the county government.
While efforts to divide the commission have failed in the past, high-level Hogan staff members believe the budget pressures created by TRIM, the tax-limiting charter amendment, now have set the stage for a compromise between Montgomery and Prince George's leaders.
"Prince George's wants to hold down expenditures and Montgomery doesn't want to be pulled into the controversy over TRIM," said Eugene Lauer, assistant chief administrative officer of Prince George's County. "We think that the time is right for an agreement."
Lauer and Prince George's delegate Timothy F. Maloney said a task force will be appointed in May or June by the heads of the Montgomery and Prince George's state legislative delegations to draft legislation authorizing the division of the commission functions.
"One of the biggest problems with the commission is that it duplicates county services like police protection," charges Maloney. "It's an agency that is out of control. We'll have to rein it in and put it under the county charter."
In a letter to the Prince George's County Council last week, recommending changes in the bicounty commission budget, Hogan directed most of his anger at the Department of Parks and Recreation.
He charged that the department "has a director, deputy director, three associate directors, and a number of division chiefs.
"I question the need for such an administrative structure in a time of dwindling resources, and believe that the planning board must re-examine the organization of the department over the next few months with the goal of cutting administrative costs by 10 to 20 percent over the next two years."
He criticized the commission for what he believes is an overly liberal vehicle take-home policy, then recommended that the county take over the day-to-day administration of the department.
Hogan also was highly critical of the service cuts made in the proposed $24.2 million fiscal year 1981 commission budget, which if approved would slash 127 man-years and a half-million dollars from this year's budget.
"I believe that adjustments can be made in the way the commission deploys staff, funds its personnel, and levies user charges that would negate the need for all the service reductions it proposes," Hogan said in his budget letter.
The executive said that he was especially concerned about a proposed $700,000 cut in services to Prince Georges's citizens, which included reduced funding for maintenance, holiday gyms and the regional park program.
To avoid the service cuts, Hogan recommended that the commission give some personnel new tasks, add or increase user charges for some services, and use state-allocated open space funds to balance the operating budget.
For example, Hogan suggested that community directors who work out of three area offices in the county be sent to the community activity centers on a part-time basis to keep the centers open seven days a week.The commission recommended that the centers be closed two days a week to save money in this program, which is the parks and recreation department's most expensive.
Hogan also said he believes the commission could increase revenue by raising charges for the processing of zoning and subdivision applications. He noted that at present the planning department gets back only about a quarter of the money it spends in processing such applications.
The executive said that the commission could get back nearly $125,000 by charging the thousands of children who use the summer playground program 25 cents a day. At present, children who participate in the six-week program pay nothing at all.
Another $100,000 could be obtained from state-allocated Program Open Space money to fund programs and personnel slots in the engineering, planning and design, and forestry departments, now funded through the operating budget. Program Open Space monies usually are used to finance capital projects.
Prince George's Planning Commission Chairman John Burcham had little comment on Hogan's recommendations.
"I see nothing very objectionable about the executive's budget recommendations," said Burcham. "We want to save money, too. As for the talk of splitting the commission, that's been talked about before."