—– By: Ann Costantino —–
One week after a unanimous vote by Baltimore County’s Recreation and Parks board to table a vote certifying a new council, a council believed to be hardwired to support the current administration’s desire to change the Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park (Ag Center)—from agricultural-based to equine centered—residents say a Baltimore County government official is in a mad rush to complete an equine project before a new administration takes over.
Now a lawmaker is asking for the state to step in by refusing to fund any part of the project.
In a letter to Gov. Larry Hogan, penned by State Delegate Chris West, who represents the district that covers the Ag Center in Hunt Valley, West said, “Mr. Homan is determined to forge ahead and immediately construct the outdoor (horse riding) arena. As he is the County’s Administrative Officer, he can expedite permits and the like in order to circumvent the normal review processes…,” West said. “Mr. Homan wants to push this project to completion as quickly as possible, before a new County Administration takes office, he is ignoring the required procurement bidding and is using an ‘on-call’ contractor that is only supposed to be used in emergency situations….”
West, a Republican, is running for Maryland State Senate against Robbie Leonard, a Democrat and member of Baltimore County’s Rec and Parks board. Leonard made the motion last week during the Rec and Park meeting which tabled the vote to certify the Maryland Equine Resource Council (MERC) until a new administration takes over.
Leonard was clear in his reasoning, which was that he favored community involvement. “I think it is appropriate for us, this close to an election, to wait until the new administration and work with MARC… a lot of this was done without the community’s input,” he said.
Members of the MARC, the Maryland Agriculture Resource Council, founded, with the help of the county, the 147-acre Ag Center in 2010. And its volunteers have taught the community through events and demonstrations on best farming practices and gardening through youth and adult agricultural activities. If certified, the proposed new council—the MERC—would support the current administrator’s desire to create a center and grounds focused on horses, equine therapy and riding. It is unclear how the two councils would function together in support of the Ag Center, as it stands.
During his motion to table the vote on the MERC last week, Leonard also made clear that delaying the vote could allay community frustrations. It’s a “great opportunity to make a fresh start,” he said.
But despite the board’s unanimous support to delay voting on a new council which would have supported plans to modify the Ag Center’s function, residents near the center say the county is moving forward with a $2.65 million outdoor riding arena, anyway – a center the MERC would support if it had been certified by Rec and Parks last week.
Some are left wondering: if no MERC, then why is the county breaking ground on a new project that that very council would be charged with supporting?
David A. Plymyer, a former county attorney for Anne Arundel County government, who writes about Baltimore County politics, said in a recent post, “The petition for certification of MERC puts the cart before the horse, so to speak.”
The county appears to be moving forward with its plans without input and the support the projects would need — and also just before a new administration takes over.
West is asking Gov. Hogan to deny grant money requested by county officials from state funds, Program Open Space (POS), which would help to fund the most recent equine-related project which lacks support to operate it.
“Under the circumstances, I would like to request that all POS funding for this project immediately be withheld or rejected until the new County Executive takes office and has an opportunity to bring all stakeholders together to determine the best path forward,” West said in his letter to the governor.
“The pell mell rush to spend a large amount of public tax dollars on a project that hasn’t been the subject of a public hearing or discussion by the County Council is terribly inappropriate, so the State should withhold the requested POS funding until this project is subjected to normal review,” he said.
Mr. Homan did not respond to a request for comment.