Fire Budget Dispute

Readers write

March 01, 1992

From: Sean Kelly

Columbia

I am writing in reference to the story in your (Howard County Sun) Feb. 19 edition headlined: "Fire dispute is probed by auditor."

As president of the Howard County Professional Fire Fighters Association, it has come to my attention that certain of our members have been approached by county citizens regarding poor management of taxpayers' money by the Savage Volunteer Fire Co. Inc.

As you know, this county's fire and rescue is staffed by both volunteers and professional firefighters. Obviously, many Howard countians see us as one.

Wefeel compelled to make it clear that anything uncovered by the Savage audit was the sole responsibility of Savage volunteers. Volunteer stations, including Savage, are responsible for their own expenditures. They are private corporations funded by county fire tax revenues. However, the present County Code stipulates that the volunteer corporations are autonomous when it comes to budget disbursements.

The annual budgets of the county-operated fire stations, on the other hand,are administered totally by the county Department of Fire and Rescueand, as such,are subject to county budget guidelines and extremely close scrutiny.

Within the past two weeks, the volunteer-operated stations rejected a proposal that they, too, operate under the county budget guidelines.

We believe that, in fairness to each and every county property owner, all fire tax monies should be administered by the county Department of Fire and Rescue. This certainly would prevent future budget misappropriations.

Only through legislative changes in the County Code can this be accomplished. Our commitment is to provide Howard County citizens with the best fire and rescue service possible, and we suggest that all budgets being governed by the same set of guidelines will result in improved services.

REJECT PROPOSED WAL-MART

From: Clark J. Wagner

Cynthia H. Wagner

Ellicott City

A story in the Feb. 16 Howard County Sun ("Wal-Mart barters for rezoning approval," by Erik Nelson) misstates some information about traffic matters and community concerns. The story covered the petitionby Nicholas Mangione and Wal-Mart to rezone 54 acres from POR to B-2so acreage can be sold to Wal-Mart for a regional shopping facility.

Testimony in October 1991 by Wal-Mart experts suggests the facility will attract more than 8,000 cars each day to the intersection of U.S. 40 and Ridge Road. Anyone attempting an emissions inspection knows it is already a difficult area. A 1986-1989 state traffic study terms the area a "High-Accident" location. The area accident rate is almost three times the statewide average.

Wal-Mart officials provided the Zoning Board a list of requirements and conditions which they "agree may be imposed by the Zoning Board as conditions for development of this site."

Wal-Mart agrees to pay for re-striping lane markings at the light and to provide several turn lanes in and out of the site. Wal-Mart offers to participate in a traffic study to re-time the lights in the area and to participate in widening bridges should the State Highway Administration consider it necessary.

However, thefive/six-lane segment at Ridge Road narrows to only two lanes eastbound and westbound at the edge of the U.S. 40 business district. Traffic congestion at Rogers Avenue endangers access to historic Ellicott City, a focus of the county's tourism efforts.

Thus, the traffic changes agreed to hardly "evaporates a key obstacle," as the Howard County Sun article states.

The statement of community concerns is accurate as far as it goes, but stops short of a key issue. Area residents are certainly concerned about round-the-clock deliveries, trash blowing from parking lots, and an upswing of crime to person and property resulting from 52,000 customers a week attracted to the store (8,000 cars carrying one person times 6.5 days of operation). Another key concern is the fate of small, locally owned businesses along the U.S. 40 business district.

There is a real concern that the $37 million to $41 million average annual sales for a Wal-Mart and the $44 million average annual sales by the Sam's Club Store in Ellicott City will cause the failure of nearby businesses. Significant new jobs willnot be created, only traded. In the long run, Wal-Mart hiring will not offset the people laid off by shrinking small businesses. Worse, businesses that are not direct Wal-Mart competitors will find that traffic problems discourage even the most loyal community residents.

The Wal-Mart project is not suitable for the proposed location, so close to a dense residential neighborhood with existing traffic problems.

There is already a suitable site in Howard County for this project, one imposing no new, radical changes to its surroundings. And itis paid for. It would be wonderful if this excellent discount retailer would make a meaningful concession and locate in the Gateway Industrial Park.

THANKS FOR 'READY & ABLE'

From: Larry T. Hughes

Columbia

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