Maryland planners recently completed a master plan that [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Montgomery County must spend [WORD ILLEGIBLE] on parks and recreation to keep pace [WORD ILLEGIBLE] demands over the next eight years.
Montgomery, one of the nation's wealthiest counties, is one of the poorest jurisdictions in recreation facilities in the Washington area, a survey by The Washington Post disclosed.
Why is such an affluent county playing expensive catch-up to meet recreation needs?
The answers, according to The Post survey, reflect some problems endemic to Montgomery County and others that confront all public segments of the $160 billion recreation industry, the nation's biggest single industry. They are:
Montgomery's own affluence. There was no early push for recreation facilities because it was assumed country clubs supplied it. As the county became more urbanized, growth underscored woefully inadequate public swimming and indoor recreation facilities.
Fragmentation. At least three different agencies supervise recreation and parks activities in the county. Roles sometimes overlap and objectives can be different. Example: The county Recreation Department differs sharply with planners from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission, who spent two years drafting the massive masters plan.
Inflation. As costs increase, county government slash budgets to avoid tax increases. Recreation historically has been the first item cut. A Montgomery community center originally budgeted for fiscal 1974 has yet to be built.
The master plan forecasts severe needs in two major county areas by 1985.
Close-in, older locales such as Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Kensington-Wheaton will requiry 14 additional community parks, 28-29 local parks and 74 additional tennis courts.
The never 1270 corridor around Gaithesburg and Germantown will require 10-11 additional community parks, 21 more local parks and 61 tennis courts.
The fragmentation problem is nowhere more evident than in differing evaluations of ballfield needs by MNCPPC's Montgomery Planning Board and the county Recreation Department.
"The 1975 level was acceptable," said the MNCPPC, which projected a need for 317 fields in all by 1960 and 391 by 1985.
The Recreation Department reported that demand exceeded supply in 1975 and that 487 fields would be need by 1980 and 629 by 1985. The 1985 projections differ by 61 per cent.
The point is not who is right or wrong: it's that two county agencies are fussing over priroities and in the process spending money that could be applied to developing facilities.
In Montgomery, the Recreation Department runs the recreation program, MNCPPC runs the parks, and the county Revenue Authority operates two public golf courses not under MNCPPC auspices.
Fragmentation in Montgomery is not limited to political subdivisions. County residents pay a recreation tax - 5.8 cents per $100 assessed property value - but Rockville, Gaithersburg and Washington Grove residents do not pay the tax because recreation services there are provided by the local jurisdictions.
Facilities are even more fragmented, especially indoors. The county has no recreation complex anything like the Thomas Jefferson Community Center in Arlington or the Wakefield Community Center in Fairfax, both $6.5 million trend-setters.
Montgomery County's regional parks are considered excellent, but the recreation side lags, apparently because MNCPPC directs its energies - and political influence - toward parks. One recreation official called the county's Recreation Department "a stepchild."
Montgomery recreation director Neil Ofsthun proposed a $34 million plan four years ago for 13 recreation complexes in park settings to include indoor-outdoor pools, multipurpose gyms and meeting rooms.
The plan has been chopped by three complexes and the first is yet to begin operating, even through funding was first projected for fiscal 1974.
Swimming, the No. 1 participant sport in the nation, was unavailable to 60 per cent of the county population in 1974, according to the Recreation Department.
The department wants to run indoor-outdoor swimming complexes on a money-making basis, based on figures complied at the Rockville minicipal pool, the county's first public pool.
County demographers found that there are 99,600 "unmet swimmer-day needs" each year in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase area alone. The total of unmet swimmer days was 455,000 in 1975, the county planners said. They projected an unmet demand of 637,000 by 1985.
"I'm taking the YMCA and Jewish Community Center concept, where you can build a nice facility and charge fees," said Ofsthun. "When they (the county government) see it'll cost $34 million over the long span, they say, 'Hey, wait.' But they'll build small ones (which don't bring revenue) and won't even think about it."