Council upset with Ecker for limiting its role in preparing capital budget

March 31, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

In yesterday's Howard County edition, two schools were incorrectly identified in a story about the capital budget. They are Bollman Bridge Elementary and Longfellow Elementary schools.

The Baltimore Sun regrets the errors.

If County Executive Charles I. Ecker thinks he pulled a coup in paring his capital budget requests to a reasonable $74 million for fiscal 1994, he may be in for a surprise.

Some County Council members are not pleased. They may not be in the mood for a fight, but if it comes, it will be over policy, not dollars.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"I hope a storm is not brewing," Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass said yesterday. "Since we are all well-intentioned people, I would hope we can agree to build the schools we need within the dollars available."

Ms. Pendergrass is upset that, during the winnowing process, Mr. Ecker asked the school board to defer for one year construction of a $30 million high school at Long Reach Park. Instead the school board postponed additions at Bollman Bridge and Longfellow Middle Schools.

In the past, the council had the last word on education. It could restore whatever the executive cut from the school board request and often did. But this year, because the board trimmed its budget before officially submitting its request, there is nothing for the council to restore. The council can only accept what Mr. Ecker proposed.

Mr. Ecker defended the process.

"Education is my No. 1 priority," he said at yesterday's news conference on his proposed capital budget. Nearly half -- 48 percent -- of the general obligation bond funding proposed in the capital budget is going for education, he said, with 43 percent going to the Board of Education and 5 percent going to Howard Community College.

In addition, Mr. Ecker said he is appealing to the state Board of Public Works for assistance, and if that money comes through, he will devote additional funding to educational projects.

Meanwhile, school construction is and continues to be a problem, Mr. Ecker said.

"I don't want debt service to eat into our operating expenses," he said. "We can't build schools without reducing the operating budget."

Meanwhile there are other demands on the capital budget. Recycling and trash removal costs contin

ue to soar, Mr. Ecker said. The proposed budget calls for $15 million for solid waste removal, including costs for a composting facility and capping an existing cell in the Alpha Ridge Landfill.

Mr. Ecker also proposes 13 percent -- $6.5 million -- of the bonds for road construction.

Mr. Ecker said he is waiting to increase spending on road projects until after the county completes its comprehensive transportation plan. That plan is being developed, he said.

To keep within his spending guidelines for fiscal 1994, Mr. Ecker needed to trim $32 million from the $106 million in requests his department heads sent him in January.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, also is concerned by the process Mr. Ecker used.

"I told Dr. Ecker [yesterday] morning that I disagreed with his proposal to postpone the eastern high school and I'm glad the school board decided against it," Mr. Gray said. "I think we need to provide public schools. We have to assure that what is requested in the capital budget is consistent with the comprehensive rezoning now being proposed."

Mr. Gray said he would be meeting with the governor in Annapolis today to lobby for another $9 million in state aid for Howard County schools.

Ms. Pendergrass, who represents the Bollman Bridge district, is miffed that the council does not have an opportunity to restore the funds, much less discuss them. She said she is particularly concerned about a loophole in the county's adequate facilities law exposed by the Bollman Bridge delay.

Whenever a middle school is overcrowded, the law takes effect. It is supposed to halt development in an area until the overcrowding is eliminated.

If plans to cure overcrowding are postponed for a year only, development could continue. It takes about three years to get through the development process and the remedy would be in place by then.

But a problem occurs if the cure is annually deferred for a year. The overcrowding never ends, but the promise that it will end in the next year is always present, thus allowing development to go forward.

Mr. Ecker said the decision to postpone the Bollman Bridge addition was purely economic. There was no intention to circumvent the law, he said. The council will begin public hearings on the proposed capital budget April 20. It will set the tax rate and vote on both the capital and operating budgets May 20.

FISCAL 1994 CAPITAL BUDGET PROPOSAL

D:Category ...... .......... .. ..Departmental ... Ecker's

....... ..... ...... ...........request ...... ..proposal

Bridge improvements...... .... $1,489,000 ...... $1,204,000

Community college ....... ..... 4,242,000 ....... 2,612,000

Community renewal ....... ..... 1,676,000 ......... 250,000

Education ....... ....... .... 45,748,000 ...... 29,550,000

Fire ..... ...... ....... ..... 2,702,000 ....... 2,642,000

General county projects ...... 18,822,000 ...... 10,752,000

Intersection controls ......... 1,870,000 ........ 1,260,00

Libraries ....... ....... ..... ....... 0 ...... (-150,000)

Police .......... ....... ..... ....... 0 ...... ....... 0

Road construction ....... ..... 6,374,000 ...... 4,696,000

Road resurfacing ........ ..... 2,800,000 ...... 1,450,000

Recreation and parks .... ..... 3,106,000 ...... 2,718,900

Sewer ........ ..... .... ..... 7,432,000 ...... 7,378,000

Sidewalks/curbs .... .... ...... 966,000 ........ 812,000

Storm drainage ..... .... ..... 3,808,000 ...... 3,783,000

Water ........ ..... .... ..... 6,896,000 ...... 6,941,000

TOTAL ........ ..... .... ...$107,931,000 .... $75,898,900

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