Pork goes off the menu at detention center Little controversy at budget hearing

April 29, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

The Howard County Council worried about pork last night at a public hearing on County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposed $289 million operating budget for fiscal 1994.

In this case, the pork was real -- not just narrowly focused parochialism. When Corrections Director James N. Rollins told the council he had dropped pork from the diet at the county detention center, council members wanted to know why.

The problem, Mr. Rollins said, was that prisoners, many of whom are Muslims, are complaining about pork in their diet and refuse to eat it.

"There go the hog farmers in Howard County," said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd.

"Was elimination of pork your idea?" Councilman Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, wanted to know. Mr. Feaga represents the rural western portion of the county. He is also a farmer who raises beef cattle. Mr. Feaga wanted to know about beef also.

Mr. Rollins told him that the elimination of pork from the prison diet is part of a national trend. As for beef, Mr. Rollins said, the meat portion of the menu is mostly turkey parts.

Apart from a group of citizens who lobbied for keeping money in the budget to open the Elkridge branch library in July, most of the talk at last night's 2 1/2 -hour hearing was between department heads and council members.

Council Chairwoman Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, asked the more than 20 people who had come to support the library to stand, and told them, "We're really grateful to fund this. I'm glad it's finally opening."

Most department heads told the council that their requests for the fiscal year beginning July 1 are so-called "continuation budgets" that maintain the current level of services but add little or no new programs.

Questions from council members elicited information not usually included in the budget summaries.

The council learned from Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo, for example, that the three-week Pam Basu trial required an additional 700 man-hours for security that cost the sheriff's office $10,000 in overtime. Even so, he will still come in under budget this year, he said.

Mr. Gray told Jeffrey A. Bourne, director of recreation and parks, that he is concerned that the department's increased dependence on user fees -- 45 percent of this year's request -- may put facilities beyond the reach of many children.

"We share your concern that kids critically in need of our services may be left behind," Mr. Bourne said. "We never [knowingly] turn anyone away. We make it work somehow."

Public Works Director James M. Irvin told the council it costs the county $470,000 annually to pay the electric bill for 3,500 street lights and 95 traffic lights. That cost will increase, he said, as demand increases for more street and traffic lights.

The council will hold a work session May 6 on the proposed operating budget. It will set the property tax rate and vote on both the capital and operating spending plans May 20.

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