Baltimore County plans to build a $3 million indoor equestrian arena at its agricultural center in Cockeysville, where horse enthusiasts would be able to ride, take classes and participate in therapeutic programs, officials said.
The arena, which could open as early as next summer, would be funded by the county and the state. The Maryland Board of Public Works — made up of the governor, comptroller and treasurer — is expected to vote Wednesday on the state’s proposed $2.3 million share of the project. The county would add another $775,000.
“We’d like to see it help serve what we think is an underserved market, which is the recreational horse rider. A lot of people feel there’s not enough trails and facilities,” said Chris McCollum, executive director of the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park.
The 150-acre agricultural center is located on a former farm in the rural northern part of the county. It has five miles of trails for horseback riding, but most of its existing facilities and programs are aimed at educating children and adults about farming and agriculture.
Unsurprisingly, the project does not have a lot of fans in most of the county, the most vocal of them being State Senator Johnny Ray Salling:
This week, the equestrian project came under fire from a state lawmaker from Dundalk who questioned whether it’s an appropriate use of tax dollars. State Sen. Johnny Ray Salling, a Republican, issued a statement Monday criticizing Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, a Democrat, for promoting it.
Salling said the money would be better spent renovating the North Point Center in his district instead of selling it to a shopping center developer.
“This is another pet project from our county executive and a slap in the face to the people of Dundalk,” Salling wrote. “I know many of my constituents would like to see our money go to the North Point Government Center, not a fancy horse center in Cockeysville.”
Is there merit in an equestrian arena in Baltimore County? Perhaps. The area in Cockeysville is already being used for agricultural purposes, its use for horses will continue to allow the area to remain outside the realm of residential or commercial development. But whatever the merits of the project, it is hardly a good use of $2,300,000 of taxpayer dollars from the state. There is no benefit to taxpayers across Maryland for recreational horseriders to have a new arena. Given the fact that riding horses is financially out of reach for most Marylanders, it is absurd to think that taxapyers should be on the hook for building this arena.
If horseriders want to build an arena, they can raise private funds to do so.
But what does this commitment by Baltimore County to build this arena say about Kevin Kamnetz? The county contribution to this project amounts to $775,000. That’s money that could have been better spent on air conditioners in public schools. That’s money that could have been better spent on the North Point Government Center redevelopment. That’s more than enough money to pay for the county contribution to bug spraying to combat midges, with $125,000 to spare. But instead Kamenetz decided to prioritize this project.
What does that say about Kamenetz when he prioritizes are horse arena for wealthy horseriders over issues that prioritize those who live near the Back River, or those who attend school in less affluent areas of the county? It says that Kamenetz wants to keep potential donors to his gubernatorial campaign happy at the expense of those who need help the most.
If Kevin Kamenetz is going to continue to horse around with projects like this, his gubernatorial aspirations will remain unfulfilled.