Howard health agency gets emergency aid Council approves $100,000 to offset part of state cut

April 08, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The Howard County Council approved $100,000 in emergency assistance to the health department last night -- half the amount health officials asked for a month ago.

The health department had sought $200,000 from contingency reserves to offset cuts in state aid for the fiscal year ending June 30.

Meanwhile, the public works department was also seeking to raid the reserves to pay for snow removal. There was not enough money to go around, and the health department modified its request.

The health department will be able to get through the rest of the fiscal year with half of what it wanted by not filling vacant positions, said Raymond S. Wacks, county budget administrator.

In other action last night, the council reduced the number of fire tax districts from six to two, approved a governmental reorganization plan and gave Mid-Atlantic Cable Co. more time to remedy franchise violations without penalty.

Before last night, each district had its own fire tax rate, ranging from a low of 15 cents per $100 of assessed value in Lisbon to a high of 23 cents in Clarksville and part of Columbia.

Under the bill passed last night, rates will be about 19 cents per $100 of assessed value for rural residents -- those outside the county water and sewer district -- and 22 cents per $100 of assessed value for urban residents for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Most council members wanted a single fire district with a uniform fire tax to reflect changes over the years. Service once offered district by district is now provided countywide. But to create a single district, the county needed permission from the Maryland General Assembly. The county's Annapolis delegation voted March 31 not to seek that approval.

"I am disappointed this is two fire districts rather than one," said Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st. "I appreciate the county executive trying to work with us to do the right thing. This is better than it was, but it is still not the right thing."

The government reorganization plan adopted by the council returns the agricultural land preservation program to the Department of Planning and Zoning, transfers central services to the Department of General Services, moves animal control to the Police Department, and puts employment and training under the control of the county administrator. The legislation is dependent upon a bill in the General Assembly that would allow the county to convert the Economic Development Department into a private authority.

Although he voted for the plan, Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, objected to voting when legislation authorizing a local Economic Development Authority is still before the General Assembly. Mr. Gray said it was a waste of the council's time last year to elevate Economic Development to departmental status.

The agreement with Mid-Atlantic imposes fines of $300 a day if construction deadlines specified in the company's 1988 franchise agreement are still unmet Jan. 1, or 121 days after the completion of the sale of a Mid-Atlantic system in Virginia, whichever comes first. The company had agreed in 1988 to bring cable television service to 73 rural Howard neighborhoods.

The county's Cable Television Advisory Committee and Cable Administrator James W. O'Connor had wanted the fines to start sooner. They told the council in a public hearing and at a work session that Mid-Atlantic had already been given more than enough time to finish the construction called for in its 1988 franchise agreement.

Mid-Atlantic General Partner John C. Norcutt, disagreed, telling the council at last week's work session that his financially troubled company has completed 93 percent of the construction it promised in 1988, has offered cable to more homes than promised, and has laid cable for more miles than promised.

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