Council speaks up on capital budget

April 21, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

What a difference having a little more money makes.

For the past two years, Howard County Council hearings on the executive's proposed capital budget have played to a crowded room with special interest groups vying for what little money was available.

Last night, only 28 people -- including staff members from the council and the administration -- showed up to discuss County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposed $76 million proposed capital budget for fiscal 1994.

The county's bond affordability committee has advised Mr. Ecker that the county is financially strong enough to carry slightly more debt in the fiscal year beginning July 1. Mr. Ecker followed that advice and raised the capital budget $3 million.

When money was tighter, council members put their parochial concerns on hold. Last night, there was no such reticence. Council members used the time they had reserved for additional speakers to press their own concerns.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, a 3rd District Democrat, wanted to know why the county excise tax for road construction does not show up in the budget.

County Budget Administrator Raymond S. Wacks said it doesn't show up because the county has no intention of doing major road construction until it has completed its general highway plan. The excise tax revenue, now amounting to about $3 million, is in a special savings account drawing interest.

Mr. Gray said he wanted the account to appear in either the operating or the capital budget and that he wanted the accumulated interest to be used exclusively for road projects.

Mr. Wacks said the administration will list the excise tax account in the budget, but the interest from it will be returned to the county's general fund for use in the county operating budget, in accordance with county policy.

Charles C. Feaga, a 5th District Republican, was upset that plans to acquire land for a 40,000-square-foot branch library in the rural western part of the county have been delayed until fiscal year 1997.

If the site is not selected until then, construction may not happen for another 10 years after that, Mr. Feaga said. He said he wanted the $7.6 million branch library built before the county proceeds with major renovations of other libraries.

Shane Pendergrass, a 1st District Democrat, was upset that a 2,100-square-foot senior nutrition center that is to be added to the Savage multipurpose center in her district is in the fiscal 1995 budget. She said the $411,000 center should have been included in the proposed fiscal 1994 budget now before the council.

"I want that nutrition site on line," she told Mr. Wacks. "See what you can do about getting it in this year's budget."

Paul R. Farragut, a 4th District Democrat, said he wants the Department of Public Works to use its former Clarksville maintenance yard for the $2.5 million relocation of the Clarksville fire station. Mr. Farragut does not want the county to spend money to acquire a site for the new 11,000-square-foot fire station.

Public Works Director James M. Irvin said the abandoned property is one of several alternative locations being studied as a Fire Department site "theoretically at no cost."

Ms. Pendergrass wanted to know why the fire station relocation could not be delayed until another fiscal year. The county has not always put fire stations in "absolutely the best place," she said. "I want this to be functionally the best place."

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