Who'll pay for Ellicott City parking?

December 27, 1993

From our file of bad ways Howard County officials can spend their time and the public's resources, we offer this story:

It seems Howard officials want to appeal to the state for a $10,000 grant to be matched by private donations and funds from the county, the Ellicott City Business Association and the Ellicott City Restoration Foundation.

The purpose of this money -- as far as anyone will say publicly -- would be to pay for a consultant's study of the parking problem in Historic Ellicott City.

Everyone who's ever tried to venture into this quaint village of shops knows there's a parking problem. And it's not going to take a degree in physics to recommend some solutions. Either better utilize the far-flung parking available or pay to create more parking in a central location.

So, why undertake a study? Because it placates Ellicott City merchants, who distrust the county's position on this issue and desire input.

Meanwhile, county officials are hoping a consultant's report will force merchants to take their heads out of the sand and accept responsibility for their problem.

The essential stumbling block is as it has always been: Who will pay for improved parking?

Months ago, a task force set up by County Executive Charles Ecker recommended the county convert the area to a special taxing district that would pay for some amenities, perhaps including parking.

But the merchants balked at the idea, claiming they would have to raise their prices to pay for the new tax and, as a result, run customers away. Never mind that merchants could lower their profit margins, or that an increase in shoppers drawn by new parking might more than offset the tax. The merchants want the county to pay for parking. Case closed.

Their protest effectively silenced Mr. Ecker on the subject. The proposed consultant's study is the county executive's olive branch to this small business community.

At best, it may jar some into realizing that the county has already gone too far in assisting this area with parking, most recently with $325,000 toward the construction of a parking lot in nearby Oella.

County residents should not have to further subsidize this business district anymore than they do the Columbia Mall. Not all drinks at the public trough need be for free.

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