Editorial 6-18

A rising tide lifts all boats, they say, and in Maryland the tsunami of a red-hot downstate real estate market is giving a big lift to parks and playground projects throughout Allegany and Garrett counties.

The state of Maryland supports county parks through Program Open Space, considered a model nationwide for funding both acquisition and development of parkland. Revenue for POS is generated by the transfer tax paid on all real estate transactions, from homes to major office complexes.

Although the real estate market has recently cooled somewhat, counties statewide are benefiting from the recent surge of home sales and the increasing value of the homes being sold. The hotter the real estate market is, the more POS funding is provided.

That’s a big part of the reason why POS allocations increased so dramatically for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

In Garrett County, the allocation from the state for fiscal 2007 totaled $758,000, three times this year’s allotment. In Allegany County, the increase was even greater, with the new allocation of $1.5 million seven times greater than fiscal 2006.

More than just a straight boost in funding, though, the increases appear even more dramatic because POS funds had been reduced in recent years. When the state faced budget deficits at the outset of the Ehrlich administration, the governor and legislature raided POS to help bridge the shortfall. That reduced county allocations.

The fiscal 2007 allocations are the first in several years to be fully funded.

When they return to Annapolis, lawmakers must redouble efforts to shield POS from budget raids. This is a state fund that directly benefits communities large and small throughout the state. In Allegany County alone, next year’s allocation will fund more than two dozen park and playground projects across the county. That’s a lot of quality of life.

Maryland’s parks are jewels because POS is a gem of a program. It must be protected from future budget raids.

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