Booting Up a Compromise

May 17, 1994

Howard County residents will have to plunk down their communal credit card for the computers and software that officials say are needed for the county's older schools.

County Council members have worked out a tentative compromise to give the school system more than the $313 million in operating funds proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker. In doing so, the county would float an additional $1.6 million in bonds to raise funds for the purchase of new computers under the school system's "technology equity" program.

The proposal to fund the technology program by creating more debt for the county came last Friday. For now, it has the backing of at least four council members -- Democrats C. Vernon Gray, Shane Pendergrass and Paul Farragut, as well as Republican Darrel Drown. The compromise is designed to increase funding to the Board of Education without cutting funds earmarked for county agencies.

Reaching the compromise involved some very creative financing, although in the end the result is quite simple: The county's budget will grow -- at least on the capital side -- beyond the limits set by Mr. Ecker. Also, residents will pay more, albeit in installments.

Still, all the parties involved in the compromise are banking that their constituents will each get something out of some part of the deal.

Mr. Ecker is certainly one of the winners. The proposal would leave his operating budget for county agencies intact. Initially, council Democrats had other plans, discussing the possibility of reducing police overtime, eliminating the county press officer, cutting 10 new employees and trimming reserves for snow removal to come up with more funds for schools. In addition, Democrats had proposed giving the school system capital funds set aside for state road improvements, a situation sure to anger the development community.

Those threats apparently proved enough to bring Mr. Drown to the bargaining table. If all goes as planned, Democrats will be able to claim they got more money for the school system without damaging other services. Still, only the very brave will step forward to say that the compromise, while soothing to certain special interests, adds to the burden of taxpayers by increasing the county debt.

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