Howard approves new council lines Republicans fault district map

November 05, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

After rancorous debate, the Howard County Council approved a new councilmanic map by a 3-2 vote along partisan lines last night.

Republican critics said the map could institutionalize a majority of Democrats from Columbia on the five-member council for the next decade.

Councilman Darrel E. Drown, R-2nd, urged County Executive Charles I. Ecker to veto the plan, complaining that the council's Democrats "were not willing to sit down and go over the various plans with us."

Mr. Drown said the plan proposed by Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, "cuts up Ellicott City very badly and gives too much political power to Columbia. It was written to ensure that three Democrats from Columbia would stay on the council for the next 10 years."

Mr. Gray said the two Republican council members "never indicated an intention to negotiate," and he defended the new map as "constitutional and fair."

Mr. Ecker, a Republican, said he didn't know whether he would veto the map. "I will make a decision within 10 days," he said.

The council also adopted a 5 percent cap on property tax assessment increases for this fiscal year by a vote of 4-1, which will result in an average savings of about $48 in the current fiscal year's tax bill for many of the county's homeowners.

Councilman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, was the sole member to advocate raising the cap to 10 percent, which would have generated $2 million more for the county at a time when it faces a $7.5 million shortfall.

Mr. Ecker had urged the council to retain the 5 percent cap and said the most forthright way to raise money would be to increase the property tax rate, now $2.59 for each $100 of assessed value.

Under the map approved last night, no incumbent will have to run against another incumbent, unlike 1986, when two incumbents from west Columbia squared off and Ruth U. Keeton defeated Lloyd G. Knowles in the Democratic primary.

The councilmanic district map would go into effect in 1994 and reflect the changes in population in the fast-growing suburban county of nearly 195,000. The current district lines took effect in 1986.

The map renumbers the five districts. The 1st would cover much of the Ellicott City and Elkridge communities; the 2nd would encompass east Columbia's Oakland Mills and Long Reach villages and surrounding communities; the 3rd would cover the Owen Brown and King's Contrivance villages in east Columbia and North Laurel; the 4th would cover west Columbia and surrounding communities, and the 5th would encompass the semirural western area along with the southern part of the county, east of Interstate 95.

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